Last March, PublicSchoolOptions.org came to Tennessee and joined more than 1,300 families in their fight to protect the Tennessee Virtual Academy (TNVA) from an unfair closure by bureaucrats in the state Department of Education. The school had been targeted due to its test scores from the state’s controversial and confusing standardized tests.
We helped families file a lawsuit to keep their school open, and three months later, the Davidson County Chancery Court ruled in the families’ favor. The ruling was a major victory for TNVA, families and children. But in reality, it was also a major victory for every school district in the state that has suffered in an environment where good teaching is being trumped by a test that no one seems to understand.
The TVAAS simply doesn’t make sense for any district. It has given a school (Bearden, Knoxville) its highest rating one year – and its lowest the next. Districts simply cannot change that much in a year, and teachers certainly don’t suddenly stop doing what works. It also can’t measure the feelings and efforts of students. TNVA made remarkable progress in years two and three that simply can’t be measured by a test.
Making matters worse, we’ve seen how TVAAS can be used for political reasons, too, when TNVA was the only school targeted for closure, despite more than 100 other public schools across Tennessee demonstrating the exact same three-year test average.
It’s time for Tennessee to close the book on that standardized test, the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) and look for real-world measurements to measure the success of its public schools.
Tennessee voters agree. PublicSchoolOptions.org sponsored a poll earlier this year and surveyed registered voters about their support for reforming public schools. The results speak for themselves:
70 percent of voters believe there needs to be reform of the education system in Tennessee;
- · 73 percent believe it is more important to judge success and have a system that does so based on an individual student’s success as opposed to the entire school population’s success;
- · 83 percent don’t feel TVAAS scores alone should be used to judge whether a school should be closed or not;
- · 79 percent don’t feel that the score a school receives from the state is an accurate measure of an individual student’s success in that school; and
- · 78 percent don’t feel a school should be closed based solely on the results of that school’s statewide testing scores of the entire student population.
In a telling message to legislators, 80 percent of all voters would vote against a legislator who voted to close a school based solely on statewide test scores. It’s so heartening to see such responses because TNVA literally came to the brink of closure before two families sued – and won.
TNVA also found the state test didn’t account for special circumstances that can influence scores and unfairly skew against special needs and low-income families. For example, 15 percent of TNVA students receive special education services – 7 percent higher than the state average, and 74 percent of its families qualify for free/reduced lunches – 14 percent higher than the state average.
This is the legacy of TVAAS: Great schools can suddenly become the state’s worst schools in one year. A virtual school that provides a lifeline to children who couldn’t attend other schools is the only school targeted for closure despite having the same test scores of a hundred other public schools.
By any measurement, TVAAS has earned an F. And it’s time to close the book.
Tillie Elvrum is the president of PublicSchoolOptions.org, a national alliance of more than 60,000 parents that supports and defends parents’ rights to access the best public school options for their children. The coalition supports the creation of public school options, including charter schools, online schools, magnet schools, open enrollment policies and other innovative education programs.