Elizabethton City Schools get high marks in academic achievement on State Report Card

By Bob Robinson

Star Staff

   Elizabethton City Schools received "As" and "Bs" in academic achievement in the latest report card issued by the Tennessee Department of Education (TDE).
   In 1992, the Tennessee General Assembly enacted legislation requiring "value-added" performance measurements in each school in Tennessee.
   Dr. Bill Sanders, a U-T Knoxville professor at the time, created the "value-added" concept which was adopted by the legislature. Today, Dr. Sanders is employed by SAS, a software company, in Cary, N.C.
   The "value-added" report card lets educators know how well they are doing compared to educators in other school systems across the state and nation.
   Dr. Benjamin Brown, TDE executive director of assessment, told the Elizabethton Star that the value-added concept measures (1) school achievement, compared to the national norm, in grades 3-8; and, (2) student improvement, compared to other students in the same grade, across the country.
   "The concept is growing in popularity across the country due to rigorous accountability measures which have been taken to improve the quality of education," Dr. Brown said.
   The "art" of improving education does not rely on numbers alone. "It is a process of improving teaching effectiveness," Dr. Brown said, adding,"It requires looking for the fairest way, one with the fullest dimension necessary. A single dimension does not tell the whole story."
   Dr. Judy Blevins, director of Elizabethton City Schools, says it is difficult, sometimes, for schools to have "improved" value-added scores when they are already scoring "As" in the area of achievement.
   "According to the Sanders' Model, it can be done. We are working very diligently in this area to crack the formula," Dr. Blevins added.
   Dr. Blevins said a review is underway to identify strengths at each school which will be shared with other schools.
   "We have already had a principal's meeting to discuss the strong points. We intend to build on the strengths at each school."
   For example, East Side is strong in math. T. A. Dugger is strong in language arts.
   "We are in the process of arranging for elementary teachers to meet with T. A. Dugger teachers to learn the secrets of their success. We are also looking at other school systems who may already be high in achievement and high in value-added," Dr. Blevins said.
   Bristol City Schools have indicated they would like to visit Elizabethton City Schools to study language arts achievement and value-added scores in grades 6-8.
   State law prohibits "high scoring schools" from being penalized under value-added. "(School) systems performing above base requirements (should) not be penalized," according to Tennessee Code Annotated (TCA) 49-1-609.
   Results of value-added performance may be used in teacher evaluation, according to an opinion issued by Atty. Gen. Charles Burson on March 7, 1996.
   "The Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS), otherwise known as the Sanders' Model, is a statistical system for evaluating student learning progress within Tennessee's public schools."
   "In part, the system measures the impact a teacher has on the progress or lack of progress of a student. Presently, TVAAS only evaluates student progress in grades three through eight."
   "TVAAS evaluations may be used in judging the performance of teachers in grades three through eight, but the weight they are given in assessing a particular teacher's performance is largely left to the discretion of the local education agency and particular circumstances of each individual case,"according to Atty. Gen. Burson's opinion.
   Furthermore, the opinion states:
   "Mandatory criteria to be used by school boards in teacher evaluation should include, but not limited to:
   (A) Classroom or position observation followed by written assessment; (B) Review of prior evaluations; (C) Personal conferences to include discussion of strengths, weaknesses and remediation; and, (D) Other appropriate criteria including the Sander's model, related to the responsibilities of the employee."
   Atty. Gen. Burson said each local teacher evaluation system must use TVAAS results, with the only limitation being that three years of data must be obtained.
   Prior to 1992, Tennessee did not have the same kind of accountability. There was a testing program in place and results were reviewed by TDE, according to Dr. Brown.
   A fellow at the National Education Finance Project, Gainesville, Fla., Dr. Brown taught in Nashville Metro Schools prior to being named director of Tennessee's Career Ladder Program in 1989. He was later named director of accountability systems with TDE and to his current post in 1999.
   Dr. Brown equates the Sanders' model to student height. "One must take height measurements, periodically, to see how much the student has grown. The same thing applies in education."
   TCA 49-1-601 requires the Tennessee Department of Education to establish performance standards for schools and school systems.
   TDE has determined that the performance standards fall into two categories: (1) those that are minimum standards or expectations, and, (2) those that are maximum goals to be attained.
   On the Tennessee Report Card for schools and school systems, meeting minimum expectations is considered a "C" or "average." Higher or lower performance is rated, accordingly.
   Meeting those standards identified as maximum goals to be attained is considered an "A" or "exemplary,"and ratings lower than exemplary are based on how close schools and school systems are to the goal.
   Tennessee educators and legislators seek measurable improvements in student knowledge and achievement. Time will tell how successful the "value-added concept" of the Sanders' Model will be in achieving success.