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Readers sound off on value-added model, district efficiency


While reader response was mixed, many readers were skeptical of these new measures.

In recent eSchool News stories, we asked readers if teachers should be evaluated using the value-added model, which uses a student’s past performance on high-stakes tests to determine how much “value” a teacher has added in a given year, and whether school districts should be judged based on their efficiency—that is, how well their students achieve in comparison to how much the district spends on each child. The results are in, and our readers were largely skeptical of these controversial measures.

In Contributing Editor Cara Erenben’s story, “Should student test scores be used to evaluate teachers?” Erenben reports on the early results from a Gates Foundation study suggesting that researchers have found some validity in the value-added model. But when asked, “Should the value-added model be used to evaluate teachers?” only four percent of readers said this was a “valid and objective tool for measuring effectiveness.”

Fifty-four percent of readers said the model should be used, “but only in conjunction with other measures of teacher performance.” Forty-two percent of readers said they think the model is “unreliable.”

“This article [noted,] ‘Reasons for instability from year to year could include factors such 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.’ The ‘and so on’ is what concerns me,” said a reader identified as the_hill 1962. “There are so many reasons. Most often, a teacher has no control over what his/her schedule is going to be. Sure, this is true for most professions. Probably the worst case is that of an emergency room doctor. I wonder if they evaluate E.R. doctors with a similar value-added model concept?”

See what readers had to say on other hot topics:

Readers: Here are our favorite apps for education

Readers: ‘Bad’ teachers aren’t the problem

Many readers said that using test scores alone is unreliable, because there are too many factors outside of the classroom that can affect student achievement.

“The assumption seems to be that student success or failure is based on a given set of tests, and that the teacher just needs to teach the ‘stuff.’ This assumption is flawed, because student success is based on many facets both in and out of school,” said Judith Naylor.

“The teacher alone cannot change the home that the students are coming from. The teacher alone cannot change administrative decisions which negatively impact what goes on in the classroom. Using statistics is essential to improving education. But the statement that value-added testing ‘compares students to themselves over time and largely controls for influences outside teachers’ control, such as poverty and parental involvement’ is ludicrous. A student who does poorly in a first test and comes from a non-supportive home and school is not going to show improvement on a subsequent test, no matter how much work a teacher puts in with that child. Don’t use the data to punish. Use the data to examine all circumstances and work as a community to focus on the problems the student is facing.”

“What about the child who has had health problems and missed 40 days of school that year?” asked Jutti. “What about the child whose parents are undergoing a messy divorce? What about the child whose older brother was murdered and the whole family is in a tailspin? What about the child who comes to school on one of the testing days totally exhausted because her apartment building was evacuated by police due to a hostage situation? Value-added does not take into consideration all the things that are beyond a teacher’s (and often a family’s) control.”

“There is another aspect that must be considered,” offered gmonohon. “With schools now focusing on pupil progress as Professional Learning Communities, students are no longer the ‘property’ of one classroom teacher, but are taught by a number of different individuals in various capacities. Their progress is discussed collaboratively by teams of teachers at grade-level or departmental meetings, by auxiliary personnel on student study teams, with parents at parent-teacher conferences; instructional decisions made at these sessions affect the student’s learning. … After considering all of the persons who are involved in ‘teaching’ the child, to whom can we attribute success?”

See what readers had to say on other hot topics:

Readers: Here are our favorite apps for education

Readers: ‘Bad’ teachers aren’t the problem

In Associate Editor Meris Stansbury’s story, “If education were a business…” a Center for American Progress (CAP) study rated districts based on their efficiency, or the amount of money invested compared to student outcomes. The report’s conclusion was that districts, on the whole, are not efficient.

In an accompanying poll, which asked: “Should districts be judged by their efficiency?” 45 percent of readers said “Yes, it’s only fair to taxpayers and students,” while 55 percent of readers said “No, it’s a faulty rubric.”

“Until public schools transform into a ‘for-profit’ entity, QUIT ALL OF THIS NONSENSE ABOUT ‘IF SCHOOLS WERE BUSINESSES!!'” said paul.rutherford.

“…The student achievement model for determining school productivity misses the point of education if standardized tests are the only measure of student achievement,” said myoung10. “Our education system exists in the greater culture of our society, and there are too many factors outside the sphere of influence of the schools that impact test scores. Schools do not exist in a vacuum and will not ‘produce’ by CAP standards until many other societal factors are addressed and realities of testing are thoroughly examined and changes made to assessment tools.”

Yet, some readers say that while the business model might not be perfect, schools shouldn’t be free from efficiency rubrics altogether.

“While it’s quite true that Ms. [Diane] Ravich is right that we’ve no data on long-range economic impact, it’s equally true that Harvard (and many other high-pressure post-secondaries) keep precisely those data, in order to hit alumni for contributions,” wrote oekosjoe. “Why has no one done anything at all like this in public primary and secondary education? It used to be very hard, since people move so much. But with Facebook, and many other social networking resources, it is finally quite easy to track alumni for a while, and some alumni for a very long time indeed. The purpose of public education is to create a community—as Horace Mann framed it in the very, very beginning. Yet, unless we use what we can to assess the value schools contribute to that effort, they will forever be defensive and, particularly city schools, ought to be scared to death until, or unless, they begin to think in more constructive ROI terms.”

“School is a business. Billions of dollars go into … materials, supplies, and contracts. Education is big business,” said msrobins. “I sat on a state data team that looked at scatter plots for data reporting that were used in this report. The government wants better results for dollars spent.”

See what readers had to say on other hot topics:

Readers: Here are our favorite apps for education

Readers: ‘Bad’ teachers aren’t the problem

msrobins gave these suggestions:

“At the state level I have witnessed multiple nights in swank hotels, upgraded rooms, food bills, and more—in the name of a meeting. Yet the technology exists to meet via Skype. If the government wants to trim down and run a business, cut the fat out. The fat rises to the top.

“The entitlement is at the top. I have witnessed the ‘I deserve it; I’ve been in education for 25 years’ mentality. I deserve a swanky hotel room because I put in my time, I deserve to make 50 cents a mile, though I have a company car, because I deserve to ride in style; I deserve to make $200,000 a year, when the starting salary of a teacher with a B.S. or B.A. is $23,000. Most of all, I deserve a pay raise when teachers’ pay is frozen, because I’m doing the real thinking.

“Quit blaming teachers for student failure, and start asking why parents of low-performing, often low-income students, aren’t held accountable for their student’s grades. Why aren’t the students?”

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