The Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System
"Tennessee is light years ahead of the rest of the country.  I've studied the whole world.  I think it is one of the best systems in the whole world, not just the United States."  Dr. Bruce S. Cooper, Fordham University Graduate School of Education
The Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) is unlike any other state-wide accountability program. Instead of ranking schools by how their students score on a standardized test, it provides information to teachers, parents and the public on how schools are doing in helping each child make academic gains each year. It provides information to school administrators to identify weaknesses in even the strongest schools.  And it provides information to central administrators, school boards and policy leaders to ask harder, more penetrating questions.

How well does it work?  
Well enough that in a report by the Council of Chief State School Officers, Tennessee's 8% increase in math and science scores was linked to TVAAS. "[Tennessee] has a very innovative assessment system," said Lary Suter, head of research and development for the National Science Foundation, which funded the CCSSO's research. "It has detailed information for how students change from grade to grade and they've been able to relay that to their teaching practices. It's been exceedingly well done." 

In addition, Tennessee is one of the few states that have shown improvement on the National Assessment of Education Progress since TVAAS was implemented in 1992. 

So what is TVAAS anyway?  
TVAAS is, at heart, a statistical methodology. It is a system that begins with testing each student in each grade in a number of subjects. Through 1997, Tennessee tested second through eighth grades in Reading, Math, Language, Science, and Social Studies using the CTBS/4 test by CTB/McGraw Hill. Since 1998, the Terra Nova test from the same company has been used in grades three through eight.. Any number of tests, both commercially developed and developed by individual states, could be the basis for Value-Added Analysis. Value-Added Analysis is what is done with the results of those tests. 

Quite simply (although the math is complex), Value-Added Analysis takes the gains each student makes from year to year and compares it to the gains made by a normative sample for that same subject between those same grades. Thus, if the normal gain from 4th to 5th grade in math was 15 points, a 5th grade teacher's students who averaged a 15 point gain for the year would score "100", or 100% or normal gains. A teacher whose students averaged an 18 point gain would score 120, and so forth. 

How has TVAAS been received by teachers and administrators?  
With great suspicion at first. But, it was part of a package that included a one-half cent increase in the sales tax rate in Tennessee, earmarked for schools. So they went along.  Now teachers and administrators across the state are finding they can actually use TVAAS to improve teaching, something that no other accountability system has afforded. 

What have we learned from TVAAS.  
Some amazing things, really. Including: 

  • The effectiveness of a school in helping students make gains cannot be predicted based on its racial or economic makeup.  
  • There are HUGE variations in the effectiveness of schools.  
  • Our schools are getting steadily better. Fewer are to be found with overall gains less than 70% of the national norm, and more and more are achieving 110%. 
  • Students from the top quartile on TCAP in the sixth grade can, when they get to high school, average anywhere from a 19 to a 26 on their ACT math scores depending on which school system they attend.  And, the variations correlate with the effectiveness scores of that system's high school math teachers. Since a 26 indicates a student with a 50-50 chance at a B or better in engineering school college calculus, this difference is significant. 
  • 4th grade students in the bottom quartile had a 62% chance of passing the math portion of our old high school competency test if they had four straight years of the most effective math teachers in grades 5-8, but only a 16% chance if they had four straight years of the least effective. 
  • Three straight years of 5th quintile teachers from 3rd through 5th grades result in math scores averaging the 85th to 95th percentile. Three straight years of the least effective (1st quintile) teachers result in scores from the 35th to 45th percentile.  
  • High achieving students are the most underserved of all Tennessee students.  
  • Black high achieving students are even more underserved than whites.  
  • High achieving students gain little or nothing during years when they are with a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd quintile teacher.  
  • In a study of two of our metropolitan school systems, both managed to increase the achievement of their lowest scoring students. But one did it at the expense of gains for their high achievers, while the other managed to move all groups up in gains.  

I've gathered a good deal of information about value-added analysis on this site.  If you need more, contact: 

   Dr. William Sanders, SAS in School, SAS Campus Drive Bldg S, Cary, NC  27513