Roy Exum: TVAAS Is Hogwash

Sunday, September 17, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

This week I watched as the release of the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment Scores make a long-time leader in Hamilton County education actually weep. I begged for her to let me use her name, to quote her, because it would give what you are about to read greater credence but there are good and honest reasons why I should not.

In return for her anonymity, we talked for well over an hour and she told me what I know to be the truth. On Tuesday the TVAAS scores for 78 Hamilton County public schools were released. They showed that with the highest score for each school being “5” and the lowest score “1,” over half of HCDE schools are either “1” or “2.”  That is hogwash. The most glaring example of the ridiculous “state scores” is on Signal Mountain where there are two elementary schools less than three miles apart with identical students and faculty.

Thrasher Elementary received a “5.” Nolan Elementary was given a “1.” Any fool can see that is clearly improbable and defies common sense. More idiotic is the plight of Signal Mountain Middle/High School where achievement records for 2016-2017 show test results reveal SMMHS is double the state average in six of 12 categories and far outpaces the state average in five other core subjects. For SMMHS to receive a “1” is absurd. The TVAAS scores show us nothing and prove even less.

Now I am told Nolan, with score “1,” never took any type of test. Without a test, any score is impossible. (Calls to the Deartment of Education were unsuccessful.)

So, why in the world did the HCDE release such meaningless garbage? “Because if they didn’t, the media would slaughter ‘em for withholding test results!” Then why didn’t somebody – anybody – reveal Nolan didn’t take a test? Did other schools not take a test? How did Thrasher get a “5?”

And just what exactly is the TVAAS? “I was a principal for (some time) and we got a ‘5’ every year. I can honestly tell you I have no idea how that happened. None. The TVAAS doesn’t mean anything to a principal. Not one school in the state will do anything differently regardless of a TVAAS score. Hamilton County schools have still not gotten achievement scores from last year but I can tell you Nolan’s teachers are crushed.

“Why? Because the Nolan faculty is easily, as a group, one of the best elementary faculties in the entire state. I know because I know many of them personally and well,” she said. (Teachers from Baylor and GPS – private schools – told me Nolan students perform well from the minute they step on those campuses.) “I know many of Nolan’s parents – with past students and current – and they are thrilled with what their children have achieved. Call any of them…”

There is a widening belief the TVAAS program is a glaring example of what is wrong in education. “It is something the state has always done. Why they continue is a reason the state’s Department of Education is wrong in a lot of ways. That’s not a nice thing to say but I doubt they could provide the legislature with a satisfactory answer why they still use it.”

Do you believe 41 schools are “1” and “2?” There is no way that is true, she said. “The Public Education Foundation can easily prove that’s false. I’ve spent my life in educating children and, despite what you hear and what you write, there are a whole lot of great things happening – really good things – in Hamilton County.

“I am still in the schools a lot. You should go with me and see for yourself. All the TVAAS scores have done is perpetuate a myth our public schools are failing. That’s not the truth! To think that is wrong.”

My friend – whose opinions I cherish – was also quite upset with my belief a recent community meeting held by Mayor Coppinger was a bust. “There were some answers to questions that needed to be heard,” she reasoned so, why, I asked was the community left out? “It was an open meeting. Everybody was invited!” she said.

No … not one Signal Mountain resident – other than those currently employed by Hamilton County – was allowed to speak a word.

Not one elected official from Signal Mountain was on the program. Not one person from the mountain’s Viability Committee spoke. Not one teacher from any of the schools involved said a word. Every question came from a faceless email without one name attached. It was like no community meeting I have ever seen, I told my friend. The community was absolutely not included nor involved. That ain’t America, I said.

“What you don’t see is the community is suffering … some beautiful people have their feelings hurt. Others aren’t talking to each other,” she said. “Those in the unincorporated areas, who do not pay Town of Signal Mountain taxes, are fearful of what will happen. If a teacher makes a town commissioner mad, she could easily get fired and have nowhere else to go…”

My reasoning for the mounting rumors is because there is a lack of communication. And that’s because the Viability Committee’s report will not be out until the end of September. There are more sides than a Rubik Cube, I told her, and every side has nutty theories. How can anybody be upset without knowing what the report will say? No rumor is accompanied by fact. Then again, it is just to see if a separate district is viable.

“Of course it is viable!” she flashed back. “The people of Signal Mountain can do anything! When the middle/high school was built there were many nay-sayers. It wasn’t as popular as you might think but then all the people came together and look what we have. The community – not just the Town of Signal Mountain – is the reason our community high school is such a great asset.”

Once again, my source refused to let me identify her but her voice is one that must be heard. She tells the truth.

* * *

Dale Brown, my close friend who was the basketball coach at LSU for years, shared his blog with me this week and his is another voice that must he heard. Here is what he wrote:

"NOBODY MAKES A GREATER MISTAKE THAN HE WHO DID NOTHING BECAUSE HE COULD ONLY DO A LITTLE." -- Edmund Burke.

“One person can make a big difference in the world. A life lived for one’s self alone is not liberation, but merely another form of bondage. Doctor Harry Edwards said it the best, "Silence is evil’s greatest ally."

“Have the courage to be heard. True courage is facing danger when you are afraid. Too many people go through life running away from what is wrong, instead of standing up for what is right. The strongest folks are those who are not fearful of standing alone. You gain strength, confidence and courage when you look fear in the face. The danger lies in refusing to face the fear, and in not daring to come to grips with it. Ayn Rand warned us when she said, "Whenever good and evil compromise, evil always wins."

“Evil is rampant now all over the world and we must honestly ask ourselves why. Man can fly faster and higher than any bird in the history of the world, man can live deeper and longer in the earth than any burrowing creature in the history of the world. The only thing man has not learned to do is walk on earth like a man of God. We have lost our moral compass.

“Now, what excuse will you use to not speak up? Excuses are like belly buttons; everyone has one. In these days of worldwide confusion and evil forces, there is a dire need for men and women who will courageously do battle for good and to eradicate evil. Never forget what Martin Luther King said, "You died when you refused to stand up for Right, Truth, and Justice."

“Since the very beginning of mankind it is obvious that evil can only flourish when good people do nothing. The greatest power in the world is our power to choose. If we choose to conquer evil it will be demolished. Life without faith is unbearable. The boldness of faith is so powerful nothing can stop it.

“President John F Kennedy had prepared a speech he was to give on 11-22-63 but was assassinated. “Our duty as a party is not to our party alone, but to the nation and indeed, to all mankind. So let us not be petty when our cause is so great. Let us not quarrel amongst ourselves when our nation’s future is at stake.

“Let us stand together with renewed confidence in our cause, united in our heritage of the past and our hopes for the future, and determined that this land we love shall lead all mankind into new frontiers of peace and abundance."

“Wake up Democrats and Republicans to this message.

“Democracy is not a free ride. We, the people, must let our voices be heard.” – Dale Brown

royexum@aol.com



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