Six high schools plunge to bottom of state rankings

Betty Bean
Government/Politics columnist

A month ago, we wrote about Bearden High School, where the faculty and staff were reeling from the news that Bearden’s Tennessee Value Added Assessment (TVAAS) ranking had plunged from a good-as-it-gets Level 5 all the way to Level 1, the lowest score possible. Schools that stay at Level 1 are labeled by the state as failing. Teachers that stay at Level 1 get fired.

Bearden’s fall was so steep and dramatic that five other KCS high schools – Central, Gibbs, Paul Kelley Volunteer Academy, L&N STEM Academy, and West – were also rated Level 1 for 2014-15 and went virtually unnoticed.

There were just two Level 1 KCS high schools in 2012-13.

Also unreported was the number of Knox County’s Level 5 high schools, which declined from nine in 2012-13 to four in 2014-15.

TVAAS ranks teacher effectiveness by measuring students’ annual academic progress against a predicted goal set by SAS Curriculum Pathways, the company chosen by the state Department of Education to formulate standardized tests. Teachers live and die by these numbers, particularly since 2011, when the state extended the probationary period for tenure from three to five years and required teachers to receive scores in the highest two categories to qualify.

Value-added testing doesn’t allow for variables like student health, environment or parental influences, and the formula gets even more esoteric for subjects (like art, music, business or special education) for which the state hasn’t figured out standardized tests. These teachers are evaluated based on the performance of students they have not taught.

John Beckett, KCS director of research and evaluation, said that slight declines in individual scores can impact school rankings, particularly in larger schools.

“It can be a really tight fit between a Level 1 and Level 5,” Beckett said, explaining that SAS measures teacher effectiveness against student performance predictions generated via “giant computers” with the capacity to analyze vast amounts of data.

Assistant Superintendent/Chief Academic Officer Elizabeth Alves said KCS looks at these numbers from “a macro level” and that no one should be surprised to see changes in school performance scores from year to year.

“Our strategic plan specifically addresses the idea that we need to be continually honing our craft to help teachers provide high quality instruction to our students.”

Say what?

Meanwhile, our superintendent wants a contract extension until 2019, set for a vote at a special school board meeting Nov. 30.

Last week, Knox County Education Association president Lauren Hopson was a “Principal for a Day” at Bearden High School.

“I requested Bearden to confirm my suspicion that it’s a great school that shouldn’t be judged by a TVAAS score, which by its very nature is flawed,” Hopson said.

“So many of the things that make Bearden a great school have nothing to do with that test – I learned today there is actually AP Art. The teacher is working on her master’s and doing the same things with her kids that she’s doing in her master’s level class.

“In another class, the kids came up with plan for a solar powered lawn mower.”

Hopson said she asked Superintendent James McIntyre if parents should pull their students out of Bearden High School, based on its TVAAS scores.

“He had no answer for me. Then he said he didn’t believe test scores were the most important thing.

“For 10 or 15 seconds, I lost all professional decorum. I belly laughed.

“When I got done, I said, ‘I have to disagree with you, Dr. McIntyre.

“The only thing we get a media circus with confetti guns and the governor for is test scores.’”

High School TVAAS composite scores, 2012-2015
School 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15
Austin East Magnet 5 5 3
Bearden 5 5 1
Carter 5 5 5
Central 5 3 1
CTE Magnet N/A N/A 2
Farragut 5 5 5
Fulton 3 1 2
Gibbs 3 4 1
Halls 5 5 5
Hardin Valley Academy 5 5 4
Karns 4 2 3
Kelley Volunteer Academy 1 1 1
L&N STEM Academy 3 1 1
Powell 5 5 5
South Doyle 5 5 4
West (IB Magnet) 1 3 1

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