Tennessee Using Data to Support Policy Priorities
Like many states today, Tennessee has a big agenda for education reform. In an effort to advance student achievement, Tennessee has enacted policies ranging from ensuring that every student graduates high school college- and career-ready to evaluating teachers and principals in new and robust ways. All of these initiatives require high-quality, longitudinal data.
Fortunately for Tennessee, it’s been collecting the necessary data—Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) data— for more than 20 years. After decades of data collection with limited data use, today Tennessee is harnessing the power of TVAAS data to support reform initiatives aimed at improving teaching and learning across the state. As a result, educators are accessing TVAAS data more frequently than ever before and using it to guide their practice.
What Is TVAAS?
The Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) uses multiple years of student data from a variety of assessments to statistically predict the performance of each student based on his or her past performance. It then reports back to the teacher and principal the extent to which the statistical expectation for that student’s achievement was met.
With this information, teachers are able to
- determine whether students are making progress and in what content areas
- differentiate instruction based on the progress of each student
- create student growth trajectories to targets
- identify and support at-risk students as well as those who need additional challenges
Principals are able to
- make data-based decisions regarding the extent to which a teacher has met or exceeded the statistical expectation for a student’s achievement
- better assign students to teachers
- evaluate and support teachers in their improvement and professional growth
State policymakers are able to
- identify the teacher training programs that are best preparing teachers for the classroom
- ascertain the effectiveness of particular districts and schools in meeting the needs of various subgroups of students
- determine where growth is occurring even when aggregate achievement figures are below targeted levels
The State Role: Building Infrastructure and Encouraging Use
The state of Tennessee was uniquely situated to build and maintain TVAAS and provide appropriate access to local users. Leaders in Tennessee realized, however, that access alone would not be enough to drive use. In 2010 the state enacted legislation mandating that 35 percent of an educator’s evaluation be based on TVAAS data. As a result, teacher interest in understanding TVAAS soared.
“People have an incentive like never before to understand how value-add works,” said Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Data & Communications Division, Zachary Rossley, Tennessee Department of Education. “We’re constantly trying to improve the user experience.”
Despite this surge in interest, leaders in Tennessee understood that while they could mandate that TVAAS data be used in educator evaluations, they could not mandate that educators use TVAAS data to inform instructional decisions. For educators to use the data, they would have to find value in it.
Taking a Step Further
In an effort to make TVAAS data more valuable for educators, the Tennessee Department of Education began working to understand the ways teachers interact with data. The department conducted focus groups and usability studies to determine how to better meet the data needs of Tennessee educators.
As a result, teachers can now
- download reports and manipulate data to their needs
- use scatter plots to visualize student growth scores as they relate to various demographics
- more easily understand the language used to describe trends in TVAAS data
- access TVAAS data earlier than ever before—as early as mid-June
Evidence of Impact: Increasing Educator Use
Tennessee’s efforts to prioritize educator needs have gone a long way toward moving Tennessee from collecting data to facilitating its use. As a result, more Tennessee educators than ever before are accessing TVAAS data. While in 2010 the website where teachers access TVAAS data saw approximately 250,000 unique logins, in 2012 that number grew to 320,000. Moreover, teachers continue to log in throughout the year, a key indicator that they’re finding value in the resources available to guide their practice.
“Once I began to see what predictions were, I began to understand why certain students struggled with things,” said Cory Concus, a math and science teacher at Covington High School. “I looked at those predictions and at that data that we have for them, and as a teacher, I’m able to—in my mind—make that transition for them and say, what you’re probably missing is this.”