Case Study: Teacher Preparation Reform—Lessons from Tennessee


Tennessee became one of the leading states in teacher preparation reforms after passing landmark legislation in 2007. Tennessee Code Annotated 49-5-108 required the state to publish annual report cards on the effectiveness of all teacher preparation programs in the state, based on licensure test outcomes, placement and retention rates, and teacher impact on student achievement.1 In 2010, Tennessee sought to make the report cards an even more effective tool for improving teacher preparation through its First to the Top Act.2

Tennessee’s changes to how it evaluates teacher preparation programs are a significant shift from the more traditional focus on input measures, such as a program’s required hours of student teaching or student-to-faculty ratios. Input measures are proxies for success and do not provide useful data on how well program graduates teach once they are actually in the classroom.

Focusing on Teacher Impact on Student Achievement

To produce its annual Report Card on the Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs, Tennessee developed a robust longitudinal data system that links each teacher preparation program to program graduates in the field and evaluations of their impact on student achievement. As an early leader in the use of value-added models to calculate teacher impact on student achievement, Tennessee included value-added outcomes data in its report cards from the start. Report cards include a value-added analysis for each teacher preparation program, comparing the performance of program completers to that of other teachers throughout the state. Through the value-added analysis, each report card also includes the percentage of each program’s graduates who are either in the top or bottom quintile of teacher performance in Tennessee.

Although the most distinctive feature of Tennessee’s teacher preparation report cards is their inclusion of student achievement data, the state seeks to provide a comprehensive picture by also providing data on program graduates’ academic credentials (such as average college grade point average (GPA) and scores on standardized assessments like the ACT or SAT), Praxis pass rates (state licensure exam), and job placement and retention outcomes. The placement and retention data in particular are important because they show whether individual teacher preparation programs meet the teacher workforce needs of the state and provide important information regarding the potential employment market to those considering entering the teaching profession.

Report Card Results

Tennessee is now better able to meaningfully differentiate teacher prep programs in the state by linking program completers to their impact on student achievement. By producing annual report cards that are available to the public, the state also highlights programs that consistently produce high-performing or low-performing teachers, providing valuable information to stakeholders.

The Tennessee Higher Education Commission, the entity responsible for producing the report cards, makes the teacher prep program report cards available on its website. The latest report cards from 2014 indicate that Lipscomb University and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville have shown highly positive results over the last three years. Certain alternative certification programs — including Teach For America Memphis, Teach For America Nashville, and the Memphis Teacher Residency — are also outperforming other programs in the state.3

Influencing Change

Teacher preparation programs can use report card data to identify strengths and weaknesses and make program changes accordingly. Lipscomb University offers one example: its 2012 report card indicated that the program’s social studies candidates were producing relatively weak results — encouraging the university to implement changes to its training. These changes included improving the social studies method courses and hiring a staff member to strengthen the pedagogy training. Two years later, Lipscomb’s 2014 report card showed that program completers were performing better on average than other beginning social studies teachers in the state.4

While teacher preparation programs may choose to use report card feedback to make internal changes, as Lipscomb University has, they are not yet held accountable to the state based on report card data. As of 2014, Tennessee did not use the annual report cards as a factor in making program approval decisions or setting performance standards. However, the Tennessee Department of Education is in the midst of developing a process for approving programs based on the performance of teachers they produce.56

Tennessee’s annual report cards on teacher preparation programs may have the potential to influence additional outcomes — including school and district hiring decisions and student enrollment in preparation programs. However, there is not enough data available at the moment to understand if or how teacher preparation outcomes data have influenced these types of changes.

Looking Forward

Other states seeking to produce better data on teacher preparation programs can draw from Tennessee’s robust data system linking programs to graduates’ impact in the classroom and the state’s efforts to improve transparency around program performance. In addition to Tennessee, states such as Louisiana, Ohio, North Carolina, and Rhode Island have made great strides in linking teacher preparation programs to student achievement — and making program outcomes data available to the public.

Moving forward, policymakers should continue to monitor the evolution of Tennessee’s teacher preparation report cards and how this data influences key outcomes related to: 1.) program approval and accountability, based on graduates’ impact on student achievement; 2.) district hiring and placement decisions; and 3.) enrollment choices of prospective applicants to teacher preparation programs within the state.

  1. “Public Chapter No. 376,” Tennessee State Legislature (2007): 4, accessed February 8, 2015,
  2. “Projects and Programs,” Tennessee Department of Education, accessed February 8, 2015,
  3. “2014 Report Card on Teacher Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs,” Tennessee Higher Education Commission (2014):1-3, 10-19, accessed February 7, 2015,
  4. “Data for Action: Understanding Teacher Effectiveness,” Data Quality Campaign, 2014, accessed February 7, 2015,
  5. “Tennessee Educator Preparation Policy,” State of Tennessee (2014): 10, accessed February 7, 2015,
  6. “Are New Teachers Being Prepared for College- and Career-Readiness Standards?” National Council on Teacher Quality  (2014): 13-14, accessed January 16, 2015,
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