University School, on the campus of East Tennessee State University, has been named the second-highest achieving school in the kindergarten-through-middle school category for the eastern Tennessee region and the seventh highest in the state by the Education Consumers Foundation (ECF). Based in Arlington, Va., the ECF selects schools annually for Value-Added Achievement Awards.

The ECF is a not-for-profit education research organization, says Virginia Richards, program director. “We function as the Consumer Reports for education in terms of getting the data about what’s happening in the schools out to the consumers of education, the parents and students themselves. Most of our information comes from school boards, from the schools themselves. We’re trying to look at the data and find out objectively what schools are doing really well.”

“We mainly focus on scores on state tests that show how much a school is changing student achievement over the course of a year,” said Richards. “We’re looking at schools that are increasing expectations for students overall and rewarding those that are getting results.”

Each year, the state conducts tests that are referred to as value-added. The ECF takes those scores and converts them to a college style four-point GPA. Math and reading scores are double-weighted. There are 532 K-8 and middle schools in Tennessee. Using the ECF methodology for measuring success, University School ranked No.7 of 532.

University School earned a similar award in 2008. Under ECF rules, a school is ineligible for consideration until a principal has served five years in a school. This is the fifth year of service for principal Dr. Doyle Brinson and so the first year the school has qualified for the award program since his arrival.

Dr. John Stone, ECF president, attended the Monday morning ceremony and congratulated the principal and staff for winning the award. “University School is doing a splendid job of lifting the achievements of the students. This is really a premier school.”

“So many of these schools that are doing a great job are kind of the red-headed step-children of their school districts,” said Stone. “You’d be surprised sometimes how little recognition they get. The reason is that while this data is available, it’s really not all that visible and understandable. So we’ve taken on the job of making it so the average person can see which schools are really doing something different than the others. Before this it was kind of like playing football without a scoreboard. You just didn’t know when to cheer.”

Brinson noted, “This is kind of humbling. I’ve been in this business – this is my 41st year, and I have never been in a place that was as committed to children, top to bottom, as University School has been. So I will pick up this award for us, but the folks who do the work are the rest of the folks in this room who made this happen. There are a lot of support folks here. There are teachers. They’re the ones in the classrooms every day. The best judgment that I use every day is to get out of their way and let them work. They know what they’re doing. They are highly skilled.”

“Our kids work hard,” added Brinson. “The expectations that children have when they come here separate us from a lot of folks. Our teachers expect them to work hard and the kids expect to work hard. And parents have joined in with us on that.” The school received an ECF banner proclaiming its award-winning status, as well as a monetary award of $2,000.

University School ranks among state’s best for performance, improvement