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Using Value-Added for Improvement, Not Shame

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Jim Mahoney, Executive Director of Battelle for Kids, a not-for-profit organization in Columbus, Ohio that works with states and school districts across the country to improve educator effectiveness and accelerate student growth contributed to this post.

There is a cartoon that often circulates in offices with the caption, "...the beatings will continue until morale improves." It would be funnier in education circles if it weren't quite so true.

We are seeing more and more districts across the country release value-added data and teacher evaluation results. For example, recently, the New York City Education Department was forced to release individual teacher scores based upon student value-added results. Value-added analysis is a sophisticated school-improvement tool that measures student growth by comparing a student's predicted academic growth with their actual performance.

Other states are also exploring the release of evaluation and value-added data. In a March 2012 Education Week article by Stephen Sawchuk called, "Access to Teacher Evaluations Divides Advocates," he discusses different states stances on releasing evaluation information. He notes that, "access to teachers' evaluation results is permissible under open-records laws in at least 18 states plus the District of Columbia." Additionally, the article notes that in Michigan and Florida have instituted legislation that says that the parents of children placed in teachers classrooms who are repeat-poor performers must be notified.

Value-added, along with other growth measures, are powerful because they level the playing field and measure the right thing -- student academic progress. Students come to teachers each year with vastly different levels of achievement, and the teacher's goal is to "add value" or growth. If we only measured achievement, why would any educator ever want to teach in a place with a disproportionate number of low-performing students?

Value-added information should not be used to name, blame, and shame; it should be a catalyst to uncover, discover, and recover.
The idea that listing individual teacher scores in the newspaper will drive better results is akin to suggesting that the track coach can get better results by simply telling the kids to run faster. Multiple data points over time from multiple perspectives are crucial because teaching and learning and the evaluation of teaching and learning are complex. This does not mean teachers shouldn't be held accountable.

What do teachers need besides new Common Core State Standards, new performance assessments, and accountability? SUPPORT. Along with data, educators must have the knowledge, resources, and skills necessary to apply them in the classroom. This kind of feedback works best in a trusting environment that upholds high performance standards and clear accountability.

Teachers also need support from Talent Managers, whether they be central office HR-types, principals, mentor teachers, etc. Talent Managers have an important role to help introduce and guide the use of this information for improvement. They must act as change leaders, systems developers, process engineers, data-driven strategic partners, and more.

Some believe we can fire our way to excellence by dismissing low performers, or reward our way to excellence by simply paying high performers more money, and ignore the majority. As experts in talent management, it won't work. We cannot forget about the vast majority of teachers--those who come to school each day, work hard, care about kids, and want to improve their practice.

Most teachers today decide to enter the profession -- to make a difference for kids.
If we aren't thoughtful about our approach to teacher improvement, we risk killing the very seed corn of young people who will want to teach in the future. And, in so doing, we will create a new problem that is much worse than the one we are trying to solve.

Do you know of any talent managers utilizing value-added as a catalyst to uncover, discover, and recover? If so, please share your experience or best practice model below!

1 Comment

So, what are the solutions? I often see people decry using pay for performance or firing low performers, two strategies employed effectively in the private sector, and not present other options. Support and mentoring work for some, but definitely not all.

I'm glad to see a change to value-added scoring and not just for low-performing students. Gifted students are often ignored in a classroom graded on benchmark tests. Unfortunately, just giving an average of value-added per student doesn't provide enough information for administrators or parents. We need to see how well a teacher does with high, average, and low performing students.

I am glad that my state is requiring notification of parents whose kids have underperforming teachers. Right now that is just done through the parent grapevine. We are sick of having schools tell us "All our teachers are great!" when the reality is that some are far superior to others. It shouldn't take a concerted effort by parents to get an ineffective teacher ousted.

I do agree that we should use these value-added scores for improvement. If one teacher pushes gifted learners to excel and another ignores them, put the gifted learners with the first. If one teacher has high value-added for math and a different one for language arts, have one teach math to all kids and the other teach language arts. If a teacher is most effective with boys, give her a class of boys.

Teaching is a different type of job than any other. While I don't agree with shaming low value-added teachers in the newspaper, parents have a right to know that their children will not be getting a great education that year. That is not shame. That is earning the trust of parents.

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