Implementing Value-Added Assessment: Challenges and Opportunities

With last week's release of Ohio's report card data, many teachers, school leaders, and district officials are reflecting on accomplishments well-earned, and charting a course to raise student achievement this school year. In the same spirit, the State Board of Education is studying the current achievement data with a close eye on the future. Beginning in 2007-08, Ohio's educational measurement system will incorporate a "value-added" model, one that will offer parents, teachers, and students a clearer understanding of student gains from year to year.

Value-added assessment measures individual student academic progress over the course of time. Currently, Ohio's accountability system measures individual student achievement at one moment in time rather than over the course of a school year or years. And the state's temporary growth calculation is only an aggregate measure of school and district progress over a two year span.

As a growth model, value-added also more accurately measures the specific impact that a school, teacher, or curriculum has on individual student learning over time. For example, consider a class of freshman at Harvard. After four years of instruction, one might find that upon graduation each student is an excellent writer, scoring well on a writing test. This could be due to the great education they received. Or, it could be that the students were already excellent writers when they entered Harvard. If the latter is true, then Harvard most likely contributed little to the students' being good writers. Which is true? A value-added system would tell us because it shows how much growth the students made during their studies.

A common complaint about Ohio's current accountability system is that it unfairly rewards and punishes schools and districts for the percentage of students "passing" achievement tests. For some districts, such as those serving predominantly middle-class or affluent students, this task is easier. However, districts serving a majority of economically disadvantaged students might be punished for not meeting proficiency standards--even though students are showing noticeable growth in performance. The present system does not recognize the point at which either group of students started--and thus cannot measure the "value added" by teachers and schools over time.

Other stakeholders, particularly those in the gifted community, worry that schools and school systems are focusing on increasing proficiency levels at the expense of high performing students who, they argue, are not being pushed to maximize their full potential because they have already achieved proficient status.

In both cases, a value-added model will give state officials a more complete picture of student learning while providing local district staff and administrators valuable data to inform and help drive instruction.

How will value-added impact schools and districts?

A value-added accountability model will delineate the relationship between two key indicators of student learning: 1. achievement (how well students score on a test), and 2. progress (the growth in student performance from one point in time to another).

Ideally, a school or district would post high achievement rates and marked academic progress from year to year. However, a school with low achievement rates but clear rates of progress could be spared the usual sanctions reserved for poor performing schools--on the premise that such progress puts students on a direct course to higher achievement levels. Conversely, high achieving schools that show little progress in student learning would be held accountable for how much student learning grows from year to year. The system would ultimately reward above-average growth while holding districts and schools accountable for below-average growth.

Average Yearly Progress (AYP) measures required by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) will still be calculated using only student achievement scores. However, that could change if Ohio's plan is accepted for a federal pilot program to measure growth--using such models as value-added.

At the state level, how much value-added affects a school or district's rating, what constitutes enough growth from year to year, and when should schools and districts be rewarded or penalized are all important issues still up for discussion. The final decisions surrounding value-added will be made by the Ohio State Board of Education this fall.

Therefore, it is vital that policy makers, educators, and other interested stakeholders weigh in on the pros and cons of how best to incorporate value-added into our state's accountability system. The goal of Ohio's value-added system--to improve the quality of student learning--will only be reached if all stakeholders understand the system, and believe that it represents a more accurate measure of the contributions that teachers, curricula, and administrators add to student learning.

Dr. Owens Fink is a member of the Ohio State Board of Education as well as the board's Accountability Task Force, which has studied and put forth recommendations for implementing the state's value-added assessment model. She represents District 7, encompassing Ashtabula, Portage, Summit, and Trumball counties.

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