NASHVILLE, Tenn., March 18, 2015 – A recent poll by the Tarrance Group found an overwhelming majority of Tennessee registered voters oppose the closing of a public school based solely on results from the state’s standardized test. The same poll found voters were even more strongly against state legislators who supported such closings. A memo of the poll is attached.
Commissioned by PublicSchoolOptions.org, the poll is in stark contrast to a decision by the state Department of Education commissioner to close Tennessee Virtual Academy (TNVA) at the end of the school year based solely on a three-year average of Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) results, and ignores the department’s own data that finds TNVA significantly improved its academic outcomes from 2013 to 2014 and showed the highest rate of improvement of more than 125 other schools that also received a Level 1 rating in each of the last three years. Virtual public schools are also battling against similar efforts in the state legislature to automatically close schools based on state test results alone.
Conducted Feb. 17-19, 2015, the poll found:
— 83 percent of those who have heard of TVAAS say the system should not be used alone as a measure for closing down a school;
— 83 percent feel successful students should not be forced to leave school just because other students are underperforming;
— 80 percent of Tennessee voters report that they would be less likely to support a State Legislator who supported closing schools on test results alone;
— 78 percent believe a public school should not be closed based solely upon the results of that particular school’s average score from statewide testing;
— 77 percent of Tennessee voters believe the State Commissioner of Education should never shut down a school that is one of the most rapidly improving schools, even if average student scores are low; and
— 73 percent of Tennessee voters believe that performance evaluations should be based upon individual students and not entire school populations. This position is held by 69 percent of GOP primary voters and 78 percent of Democratic primary voters.
The poll was conducted by Brian Tringali of The Tarrance Group and was fielded via a telephone survey of 622 registered voters in the state of Tennessee about their support for reforming public schools. A random sample of this type is likely to yield a margin of error of +4.1 percent in 95 out of 100 cases. Over a third (35 percent) of the completed interviews were conducted among those using a cell phone. Responses to the survey were gathered February 17-19, 2015.
“This polling shows Tennessee voters unquestionably disagree with the commissioner of education and moves by some legislators to unfairly close virtual public schools based solely on standardized testing,” said Beth Purcell, president of PSO, a national alliance of parents that supports and defends parents’ rights to access the best public school options for their children. “It’s time for the department and legislators to support students who attend virtual public schools by treating them fairly and equally, rather than undermining parent choice and taking these school options away from families who desperately need them.”
“Any elected official who supports granting power to the state to automatically close schools that families want to attend and that are working for kids is clearly out of touch with their constituents,” she said.
Purcell said unfair treatment of TNVA and its 1,300 public school students, many of whom are special needs and at-risk students, has forced parents to file a lawsuit against the commissioner of education for unlawfully ordering the school to close. The Department of Education is ignoring tremendous progress the virtual public school made last year.
TNVA is a public school run by Union County Public Schools and ultimately reports to the elected Union County school board. After Union County opened the school in 2011, and worked to transition students to an online learning model, the department’s own data revealed TNVA began significantly improving its student outcomes from 2013 to 2014. In fact, last year TNVA realized improvements seven times greater than schools with the same level rating, despite facing several unique challenges, including serving a higher percentage of special education and low-income students than the state average. Fifteen percent of TNVA students receive special education services, and 74 percent of its families qualify for free/reduced lunches, according to Union County.
There are 1,300 unique students and 1,300 unique stories as to how and why TNVA is working to meet student and family needs – students who are excelling or who are far behind; students with significant and, in some cases, debilitating or even life-threatening illnesses; students who have been threatened or bullied; students with special needs, including many students with autism, who find it difficult to achieve in a traditional classroom.