Admittedly, the value-added model has “volatility.” Reasons for instability from year to year could include factors size as significant differences in class size from year to year, an influenza outbreak, a group of disruptive students, construction noise during testing, and so on.
“Value-added methods have been criticized as being too imprecise, since they depend on the performance of a limited number of students in each classroom. Indeed, we do find that a teacher’s value-added [result] fluctuates from year to year and from class to class, as succeeding cohorts of students move through his or her classrooms. However, our analysis shows that volatility is not so large as to undercut the usefulness of value-added as an indicator of future performance,” the policy brief for the report said.
Second, the teachers with the highest value-added scores on state tests also tend to help students develop a deeper conceptual understanding as well. “We see evidence that teachers with high value-added on state tests also seem to help students perform better on the supplemental tests. This seems particularly true in mathematics,” the policy brief said.
In many classrooms, students reported spending a great deal of time preparing for state tests. “The teachers in such classrooms rarely show the highest value-added on state tests,” the policy brief said.
Third, the average student knows effective teaching when he or she experiences it. When collected appropriately, student perceptions of a teacher correlate to the teacher’s value-added estimates.
“When students report positive classroom experiences, those classrooms tend to achieve greater learning gains, and other classrooms taught by the same teacher appear to do so as well,” the policy brief said.
“Students’ perceptions have two other welcome characteristics: They provide a potentially important measure that can be used in non-tested grades and subjects. In addition, the information received by the teacher is more specific and actionable than value-added scores or test results alone,” it added.
Fourth, valid feedback need not be limited to test scores alone. By combining different sources of data, it is possible to provide diagnostic, targeted feedback to teachers who are eager to improve.
“The public discussion usually portrays only two options: the status quo (where there is no meaningful feedback for teachers) and a seemingly extreme world in which tests scores alone determine a teacher’s fate. Our results suggest that’s a false choice. It is possible to combine measures from different sources to get a more complete picture of teaching practice,” the policy brief said.
“Value-added scores alone, while important, do not recommend specific ways for teachers to improve,” it concluded.
Action steps for school leaders
“Reinventing the way we develop and evaluate teachers will require a thorough culture change in our schools,” the policy brief said. The researchers recommend that school leaders begin:
- Working with teachers to develop accurate lists of the students in their care, so that value-added data are as accurate as possible;
- Using confidential surveys to collect student feedback on specific aspects of a teacher’s practice, including those in non-tested grades and subjects;
- Retraining those who do classroom observations to provide more meaningful feedback; and
- Regularly checking that the measures they use allow them to explain the variation in student achievement gains among teachers.
“The best way to ensure that the evaluation system is providing valid and reliable feedback to teachers is to regularly verify that—on average—those who shine in their evaluations are producing larger student achievement gains,” the policy brief said.
The MET Project plans to release its next analyses in the spring and summer, followed by the final results next winter.
Link to the Report: “Learning about Teaching: Initial Findings from the Measures of Effective Teaching Project” (PDF)
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