Subjected to unfair accountability scheme, TNVA only Level 1 school ordered to close
Nashville, Tenn., March 11, 2015 – Despite seeing the best improvement in school performance trends of over 125 schools that received a Level 1 rating in each of the last three years, Tennessee Virtual Academy (TNVA), an online public school of Union County Public Schools, was still subjected to an unfair accountability scheme and ordered to close by former Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, according to an analysis of school ratings by PublicSchoolOptions.com (PSO).
After Union County opened the school in 2011, and worked to transition students to an online learning model, the department’s own data reveals TNVA began significantly improving its student outcomes from 2013 to 2014. In fact, last year TNVA realized improvements seven times greater than similarly rated schools, despite facing several unique challenges, including serving a higher percentage of special education and low-income students than the state average, while being denied federal funding controlled by the state.
Based on an analysis of the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) of more than 125 schools with a Level 1 rating in each of the last three years:
— 36 schools declined from Year 3 to Year 1;
— 92 of the schools improved, by an average of 5.19 points, from Year 3 to Year 1; and
— TNVA showed the largest improvement of 36.31 points – seven times higher than the average.
Despite the fact that TNVA is one of the fastest improving public schools in the state, it’s the only school that was ordered by the state to close. This is the result of the Department of Education’s arbitrary and unique accountability structure, one that was enacted only after the school’s first year and used in a punitive manner, rather than to improve schools as intended by the legislature. Unlike TNVA, all remaining Level 1 schools in Tennessee most likely received support and funds from the state due to their ratings and inclusion in the state’s normal, well-established accountability system.
“The Department of Education can no longer call TNVA a failed school,” 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. “TNVA is a school that has made real progress and is working. Administrators, teachers and parents have taken its mission to heart and worked with 1,300 students to achieve what is nothing less than a very special outcome. We simply cannot understand why an unequal and separate accountability system was put into place for TNVA when the department’s own data shows remarkable improvement. TNVA’s students are public school students, too, and deserve to be treated equally under the law.”
“Gov. Haslam has praised Tennessee for being the fastest improving state in the nation as measured by the NAEP assessment,” Purcell said. “Tennessee Virtual Academy is one of the fastest improving schools in his state. Parents and educators know that when you see a child making progress, you encourage and support him or her. The same should be true of our schools. TNVA’s students are making real progress and producing positive outcomes. TNVA is a fast-improving public school that should remain open for families and kids without the threat of being unfairly targeted and closed by the state. We hope Gov. Haslam will step in and save our school.
TNVA is a public school run by Union County Public Schools and ultimately reports to the elected Union County school board. Fifteen percent of TNVA students receive special education services, and 74 percent of its families qualify for free/reduced lunches, according to Union County.
For many families, TNVA, the state’s only full-time, K-8 statewide online public school, is the lone school that fits the needs of their children. Last month, hundreds of students and educators descended on the state Capitol to express their support for protecting the right of parents to choose the school that works best for their children.
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 whose parents serve in the military and are deployed overseas; students with special needs, including many students with autism, who find it difficult to achieve in a traditional classroom.