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Tenn. Releases Results From 'Value Added' Testing Program

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Tennessee officials have released the first results of an unusual program designed to show the "value added'' that school systems provide in raising student achievement.

The program, mandated by a 1992 law, compares the year-to-year gains in achievement by students in grades 3 through 8 in five subjects with the gains made by students nationwide, according to nationally normed tests.

The system is aimed at encouraging districts to focus continually on improving students' performance, not simply bringing them above a "national average,'' according to Wayne Qualls, the associate state commissioner of education in the division of accountability.

"We're talking about gain, not above or below average,'' he said.

Ramsay W. Selden, the director of the state education-assessment center at the Council of Chief State School Officers, said that, unlike other state testing programs, the Tennessee program does not put students from poorer backgrounds at a disadvantage in presenting the results.

"The important variable is where the kid starts on the achievement continuum, rather than socioeconomic status,'' Mr. Selden said.

The test results released last month are the last piece of a five-part accountability system mandated by the 1992 law. Under that statute, school districts that show progress in five areas--the value-added testing, attendance, proficiency-test results, graduation rates, and promotion rates--are eligible for rewards. Those that fail to show progress after two years are subject to sanctions.

Although this month's report provided data only for the state's 138 school systems, a report next fall on the 1992-93 test will include data for each school as well. By 1995, the state will produce data for each teacher, although individual teachers' results will not be released publicly.

Gov. Ned McWherter said the first results should serve as a "wake-up call'' to the public about the quality of schools.

The results also demonstrated that most districts need improvement in mathematics and science, noted Commissioner of Education Charles E. Smith.

The report found that, while nearly all districts exceeded national gains in language arts, only 32 percent of the districts matched national gains in math and 18 percent surpassed the national rate in science.--R.R.

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