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Last Updated: 10/31/2017
 

Value-added Evaluation Being Tried in Ohio Schools

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The Plain Dealer, August 24, 2008

Tests measure what students know. Like a Polaroid, they give a snapshot of knowledge frozen at one moment in time.


But what if you could measure how much a child learns over the course of a school year? What if you could gauge what a school actually adds to a child's learning experience?


In Ohio, you can.


This year's district and school report cards, which will be released Tuesday by the Ohio Department of Education, for the first time will include a measurement known as value-added.


The revolutionary formula, designed more than two decades ago by a homespun statistical guru from the rolling hills of eastern Tennessee, has rocked the education world.


Put simply, value-added tracks whether a year's worth of learning is actually happening in the course of a school year -- regardless of whether a child passes a test at the end of that year.


Ohio schools and districts that exceed expected growth will be rewarded with a plus sign on their report cards and could move up a rung on the ladder of academic ranking. Those who make expected growth will get a check mark. Those who miss their target will get a minus sign.


More important, the formula will show parents which schools are really teaching children something and which schools are coasting.


It will reveal that in some affluent districts that easily hit state testing targets, students aren't being challenged enough.


And it will disclose that students in some high-poverty districts are making amazing gains, even if they aren't yet passing state tests.


Think of it this way: Many a parent has used pencil marks on a bedroom wall to plot a child's growth. Value-added does the same thing, measuring academic growth rather than penalizing a child for not making a predetermined height like, say, 6-foot-2.


"It is, at this point in time, the most robust methodology that has been developed," said William Sanders, who began working on the concept 25 years ago as a University of Tennessee researcher. "It's fair to hold adults accountable for the progress rate of children."


Ohio and just three other states -- Tennessee, Pennsylvania and North Carolina -- use the value-added measurement statewide. Ohio's valued-added data is based on the reading and math scores of public-school students in grades 4-8.


A Columbus-based nonprofit, Battelle for Kids, began the value-added experiment in Ohio in 2002 with a pilot project using the concept in 42 volunteer school districts. By last year, the experiment had evolved into the largest value-added pilot program in the United States.


State officials hired Sanders -- an affable professor with an easy drawl and a keen mind for numbers -- as a consultant. Together they fashioned a formula that fit Ohio's system.


What makes Sanders' formula compelling -- and controversial -- is its ability to predict what a student should achieve. When actuaries compute life expectancy, they take into account factors such as a person's family history, or habits such as smoking or hobbies such as skydiving. Likewise, value-added takes into account a student's academic background and comes up with a predicted score.


"This is the most important thing we do, in my view," Sanders said. "I'm not going to get them all right, but if you bet against me, you're going to lose."


It also represents a seismic shift in education research. For decades, educators embraced the thinking of the late sociologist James Coleman, who argued that a child's socioeconomic status largely determined academic achievement and that what schools do doesn't matter much.


Sanders turned that thinking on its head. Instead of adjusting for the income level of a child's family, Sanders compares the child against his or her own past academic performance.


Because all children don't achieve at the same level, schools are evaluated on what "value" they add to a student's experience. Schools that don't add anything need to ask why.


"If a district is below the expected level of growth, it needs to take account of what's going on," said Matt Cohen, executive director for policy and accountability for the Ohio Department of Education.


Not everyone is completely enamored of Sanders' work. Some, such as Virginia-based education researcher Gerald Bracey, contend value-added is flawed because it is still based on test scores. And the Education Trust's Kati Haycock warns that while growth is important, it's also crucial that all children -- poor, rich, black, white -- eventually master academic skills.


"It's not just growth," said Eric Gordon, chief academic officer of the Cleveland public schools. "It's growth and standards."


But the most potentially explosive thing about value-added is its ability to determine which individual teachers are effective and which are not. Some school districts, such as Houston, are already using Sanders' work as the foundation for a performance pay system for teachers.


In Ohio, Battelle for Kids is using valued-added in a volunteer pilot program involving about 1,800 teachers in about 240 schools across the state. What it has found: effective teaching is not limited to the state's affluent districts with the highest test scores.


The Ohio pilot is not being used to evaluate or pay teachers but rather to learn what works in the classroom and what doesn't, said Jim Mahoney, executive director of Battelle for Kids.


"The worst thing that can happen is that you're given this tool and you make it into a weapon," Mahoney said. "The fact that a tool might be misused is not a good reason to do away with it."

Questions and answers on value-added measurement of students
These are some frequently asked questions about the value-added measurement:

Q. How is value-added different from traditional measures of student performance?
Student performance can be measured in two very different ways, both of which are important. Achievement describes the absolute levels attained by students in their end-of-year tests. Growth, in contrast, describes the progress in test scores made over the school year.

Q/ Why is measuring both achievement and progress important?
In the past, students and schools have been ranked solely on achievement. The problem with this method is that achievement is highly linked to the socioeconomic status of a student's family. In contrast, value-added assessment measures growth and answers the question: How much value did the school staff add for students?

Q. Is it possible to show progress with all students -- special-ed, gifted and low-performing
Yes. The value-added methodology used is sensitive to individual students' achievement levels. It measures growth from the end of one year to the end of the next year, regardless of whether a student performs below or above grade level.

Q.Does value-added analysis require additional testing?
No. Value-added analysis uses existing standardized test data and can be done only where annual testing is provided.

Q. Do socioeconomic factors affect valued-added measurements?
No. Leading experts have shown that those factors -- such as household income or parents' education level -- have no significant relationship with student progress measures.

SOURCE: Battelle for Kids; University of Pennsylvania.

 

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