Subtraction by Distraction

With the ever increasing generation and use of value added scores - that is, scores primarily based on student test results, there will be a increasing desire by some to inappropriately use these scores in a public way.

The Ohio Department of Education recently conducted a session on this topic with Ohio's media to try to inform them on the proper use of value add, its complexities and limitations.

Such is the red hot nature of this topic, the Center for American Progress has just released a report on the subject of publishing value add scores tied to teachers names. It concludes with this warning.

Value-added scores give us important information, so they should continue to be used as part of teacher-evaluation systems. Parents and the public have a right to transparent information about teachers, but teachers’ privacy needs to be protected. Public identification of teachers with value-added estimates will undermine efforts to improve schools by hamstringing efforts to make actual classroom performance the basis for decisions affecting the career prospects of currently practicing teachers, and by hoisting red flags of caution for college graduates and career changers inclined toward the profession.

The bottom line is this: Teachers need to be part of reforms but releasing names in this way only leads to conflict and runs counter to the need for collaboration. We note also that parent notification is a particularly tricky issue that needs considerably more thought than we were able to devote to it in this brief.

Releasing value-added scores at the school level is appropriate, however, and this could serve valuable purposes related to transparency and accountability. Districts could aggregate value-added scores and evaluations by grade, or by school, as a component of a robust accountability system that could then be folded into the requirements of state or national accountability laws. Publicly releasing such aggregate information could play an important role in documenting whether or not highly effective teachers are equitably distributed among schools in a district and among districts in a state.

If journalists attempt to do their own analyses of value-added data, they should follow the same standards that researchers do when protecting human subjects. "is means that data are de-identified and individual names are never published.

Furthermore, datasets should continue to be available to researchers whether in academic institutions or in media outlets. Such research is absolutely critical in order to develop a deeper knowledge base about value-added scores, their potential uses, and misuses that should be avoided.

Battele for Kids, who are heavily involved in the design and creation of value add and teacher evaluations had this recent warning

Those who deal with statistics recognize that using a single data point, like value-added, in a single point in time is not a responsible use of that data. Although it does provide utility to assist us in aligning curriculum, course pacing and resource allocation, a three year rolling average of value-added data would provide a clearer picture of a teacher’s effectiveness.

As we increasingly rely upon data in the persuit of corporate education reform policies, we need to be vigilant in holding those who use this data to a high standard of analysis, and not allow the misappropriate or intepretation of data to drive ideoloigcal or profit driven agendas.