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Former Senate majority leader Bill Frist left Congress to start The State Collaborative on Reforming Education (

SCORE

) five years ago.

The goal of the group is to analyze state data and help find ways to improve education. On Monday, the group released its annual State of Education in Tennessee report. Education leaders from around the state gathered to hear Frist and a panel of educators goals for the year.

Read the full SCORE report here.

The report says Tennessee is the fastest improving state in the nation, behind only the District of Columbia, in terms of student achievement. But it acknowledges there's still a lot of work to do and education officials shouldn't lose the sense of urgency to continue improvements.

Despite the improvements, Tennessee scores are still lower than the national average.

The report identified the following top priorities for education in Tennessee:

1. Maintaining a commitment to rigorous standards and assessments. The report says Tennessee must push forward with the continued implementation of the Common Core State Standards. It also points out that measuring student success with higher standards is needed for effective instruction, so Tennessee must continue its commitment to implementing the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) assessments.

2. Strengthening schools through effective leadership. As Tennessee continues to implement student-centered initiatives it is crucial to have strong instructional leadership in every school, the report concludes. To build a pipeline of strong leaders, the state focus should be on creating an aligned, rigorous system for recruiting, training, evaluating and providing ongoing support to school leaders.

3. Expanding student access to great teaching. The report specifically calls for providing teachers with the tools and resources – including instructional coaching, collaborative planning time, and targeted professional learning – that will enable them to be experts in their profession. The report also calls for helping teacher preparation programs implement more selective admissions processes and rigorous curriculum requirements that prioritize the skills and knowledge teachers need to support students in the classroom.

4. Investing in technology to enhance instruction. The report says that although the upcoming online PARCC assessments are a catalyst for increasing technological capabilities in schools and school districts, investing in technology must be an ongoing priority and not just a one-time purchase. Students and teachers need daily access to technology and must be trained on using it, the report says.

5. Supporting students from kindergarten to career. The report points out that in today's economy most careers require training after high school. It specifically calls for creating a data-rich environment that equips leaders, educators, and parents with the information and tools they need and a data-driven approach to making decisions about policy and practice that will advance student success. It also recommends expanded opportunities for more students to take AP, International Baccalaureate, dual-credit, and dual-enrollment courses and to study science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects.

"We've made huge progress over the last year. We know that. We've been recognized by America for the progress we've made in education. But very, I think, smartly we say we're at a crossroads. We have a lot to do in terms of execution in the reforms we've made to date, " said Frist.

Morristown-West High School senior, Julio Salazar, spoke to the group. He has served on SCORE's steering committee as a student representative. He plans to attend the University of Notre Dame in the fall. Salazar knew 3 words in English when he came to the United States in 2nd grade.

"It's really cool to come to Nashville once a month and talk to... representatives, senators, and people involved in education throughout the state. It's also very humbling to me to come from Mexico and be in a place to become a statistic and then come out of that because of the work these people are doing," said Salazar.

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