Reform is Working

That’s the message from the Tennessee Department of Education based on recently released TCAP results and an analysis of the data over time.

You can see for yourself here and here.

The one area of concern is reading, but overall, students are performing better than they were when new TCAP tests were started and standards were raised.

Here’s the interesting thing: This is true across school districts and demographic subgroups. The trend is positive.

Here’s something else: A similar trend could be seen in results before the change in the test in 2009.

Tennessee students were steadily making gains. Teachers and schools were hitting the mark set for them by policymakers. This in an age of collective bargaining for teachers and no TVAAS-based evaluation or pay schemes.

When the standards were made higher — certainly a welcome change — teachers again hit the mark.

Of course, since the standards change, lots of other reforms have taken place. Most of these have centered around teachers and the incorporation of TVAAS in teacher evaluation and even pay schemes. The State Board of Education even gutted the old state salary schedule to promote pay differentiation, ostensibly based on TVAAS scores.

But does pay for TVAAS actually lead to improved student outcomes as measured by TVAAS?

Consider this comparison of Putnam County and Cumberland County. Putnam was one of the original TIF recipients and among the first to develop a pay scheme based on teacher evaluations and TVAAS.

Putnam’s 2014 TVAAS results are positive, to be sure. But neighboring Cumberland County (a district that is demographically similar and has a similar assortment of schools) also shows positive TVAAS results.  Cumberland relies on the traditional teacher pay scale. From 2012-13 to 2013-14, Putnam saw a 50% increase in the number of categories (all schools included) in which they earned TVAAS scores of 5. So did Cumberland County.

Likewise, from 2012-13 to 2013-14, Putnam saw a 13% decline in the number of categories in which they earned TVAAS scores below a 3. In Cumberland County, the number was cut by 11%.

This is one example over a two-year cycle. New district level results for 2015 will soon be available and will warrant an update. But, it’s also worth noting that these results track results seen in Denver in analysis of their ProComp pay system. Specifially, University of Colorado’s Denver ProComp Evaluation Report (2010-2012) finds little impact of ProComp on student achievement, or on teachers’ professional practices, including their teaching practices or retention.

The Putnam-Cumberland initial analysis tracks with that of the ProComp studies: Teacher performance pay, even if devised in conjunction with teacher groups, cannot be said to have a significant impact on student performance over time.

So, prior to 2008, student academic achievement as measured by Tennessee standardized tests showed steady improvement over time. This occurred in an environment with no performance pay. Again from 2009-2015, across districts and demographic groups, student achievement is improving. Only a small number of Tennessee districts have performance pay schemes — so, that alone would indicate that performance pay is not driving improved student outcomes.  Then, a preliminary comparison of two districts suggests that both performance pay and non-performance pay districts see significant (and similar) TVAAS gains.

Reform may be working — but it may not be the reform the reformers want to push.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

3 thoughts on “Reform is Working

  1. 1. Could we be seeing an academic form of the Flynn effect?
    2. Could districts be better at identifying students that need academic help?
    3. Could districts be using programs that are more effective by being researched-based and monitored for progress?
    4. Could districts have learned how to play the TVAAS game?

    I think it could be a combination of all of these.

    • I agree that a number of these factors could be at play here. In fact, it seems likely. What seems unlikely, based on the data, is that pay for TVAAS schemes improve student performance. What is measured is improving in districts of various demographic types and with varying pay schemes.

  2. Pingback: Tennessee Education Report | Does TCAP Measure Proficiency or Poverty?

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