Because of the Chicago teacher strike, more people than ever in this country are beginning to learn about some of the big issues in education reform. The most important, in my estimation, is also, unfortunately, the trickiest to understand — that is, the use of standardized test scores in teacher evaluation.
There are a lot of people, I think, who when they first hear about this oppose it, but for the wrong reason. They think it is unfair because poor kids do, um, poorly on these tests and so it seems to give an unfair advantage to teachers in the suburbs.
But then there is a different group of people who are a bit more informed. They hear that the teacher evaluations are not based on having students achieve a particular score, but on ‘growth’ or ‘progress’ from whatever point the students started at. In theory, this would make evaluations fair. Based on the way this is described in the media (not necessarily because they purposely mischaracterize how it works, but because it is nearly impossible — as I will demonstrate, yet again, here — to explain all the subtleties in a few words), I can see why the union might seem unreasonable for opposing this. The issue is that Race To The Top coerced states to agree to include what’s called ‘value-added’ into teacher evaluations.
What Is ‘Value-Added’?
‘Value-added’ is when information about students is fed into a computer and the computer uses a complicated math formula to try and determine what the standardized test scores should be at the end of the year if that class were to have an ‘average’ teacher. After the end of year state test scores are calculated, a teachers ‘value-added’ is based on whether the class exceeds or falls short of the computer’s calculation.
The main problem with ‘value-added’ is that is is completely inaccurate. Teachers who add a lot of ‘value’ one year often add little ‘value’ the next year. Even within the same year, teachers who teach two different grades are often shocked to learn that they added a lot of ‘value’ to their seventh grade class first period, but little ‘value’ to their second period eighth grade class.
If your job was to help people lose weight, would you want your clients to be weighed on a scale that registers wildly different readings each hour?
What Isn’t ‘Value-Added’?
In an effort to get the ‘gist’ of ‘value-added,’ reporters often use descriptions that make it sound like something worthwhile and fair. Here are the three most popular ways of doing this:
1) Value-added is not ‘student learning.’
Often politicians defend their support of value-added being up to 50% of a teacher’s evaluation by saying that teacher evaluation is ‘broken’ because is does factor in how much the students ‘learn.’
Here are some recent examples:
“We’re still learning about how to improve teacher evaluation and incorporate measures of student learning. ”
“Among other things, the striking teachers oppose plans to hold them accountable for what their students learn in the classroom.”
Tim Daly of TNTP is quoted as saying, “It’s very risky because they’re asking the public to support them in a strike that is about whether they should be evaluated on how much students are learning.”
2) Value-added is not ‘student achievement’
The Denver Post
“But the key issue in the debate is a teacher evaluation system tied to student achievement.”
“Rahm Emanuel is one of the president’s foot soldiers in that movement, which focuses on linking teacher pay to student achievement”
“Even so, many skeptics protested after Tennessee enacted a state law in 2010 that required 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be based on student achievement data — 35 percent on student growth, with the other 15 percent based on other measures of student achievement.”
3) ‘Value-added’ is not ‘student growth’
“Twenty-four states now require teacher evaluations based on some measure of student growth, according to an analysis by the National Council on Teacher Quality, a research and policy group.”
“Lewis was complaining about teacher evaluations that for the first time will be tied to student academic growth.”
“Duncan also urged Los Angeles educators to use student growth as a factor in evaluations, something he and Obama have long advocated.”
In summary, ‘value-added’ is nothing but ‘value-added.’ I’d urge all reporters to call it that and not fall for the vocabulary of the reformers.