After a week of letting the issue simmer in my thinking, I have some thoughts about the method.
POTENTIALLY USEFUL FOR PROFESSIONAL GROWTH
First, the analyses are worth creating. This kind of data on student progress could be quite useful for professional development, first for individual teachers' individual reflection, and second for individual conversations with supervisors about next steps in professional development. Separate from evaluation decisions, tenure decisions, promotion decisions, intervention decisions, and removal decisions, the information could help teachers improve their craft and help school leaders support teachers on making those improvement.
A recent national study reported that:
If only three years of data are used for estimation (the amount of data typically used in practice), Type I and II errors for teacher-level analyses will be about 26 percent each. This means that in a typical performance measurement system, 1 in 4 teachers who are truly average in performance will be erroneously identified for special treatment, and 1 in 4 teachers who differ from average performance by 3 to 4 months of student learning will be overlooked.Most elementary teachers have 25 or fewer students. Middle school teachers often have more students, but they have shorter periods for working with each one. Given those small numbers, weakness in the statistics should really not be a surprise.
NOT POSSIBLE FOR MOST TEACHERS
The value-added approach requires "before" and "after" test scores. Using Kentucky's current state assessments, only reading and mathematics teachers in grades four through eight could be analyzed this way. In science, history, and other subjects, we do not test every year. Even in reading and math, we do not have grade-to-grade results we can use for teachers in third grade and earlier or in ninth grade or higher. Future testing could provide additional data and options--but those approaches are in the design phase and their funding in limbo.
A TOUGH SELL AS AN EVALUATION TOOL
In current discussions, many educators are clearly very wary of value-added analysis. Some of the wariness rests on specific evidence, including examples of plans that ignore the best methods available and informations on the uncertainties even when the best methods are applied. Some comes from wanting to hear the details before endorsing any approach. Some does, frankly, seem to come from general uneasiness with change, and at least a little comes from resistance to responsibility.
The thing is, if teachers do not trust and respect an evaluation system, it will not work. That is, an evaluation system without substantial buy-in will not lead to increasing teaching quality that leads in turn to increasing student performance. Accordingly, any proposal for using value-added data in evaluations has to pass two standards: technical soundness and teacher acceptance.
As I read the current discussion, that teacher acceptance will have to be earned through careful listening, careful responses, careful design, careful explanations of the design, and and very careful implementation of any design that gets adopted. That is the kind of work Commissioner Holliday has requested from the task forces now looking at Kentucky evaluation methods, and I'm honored to be participating in those efforts.
NOT SOMETHING TO PUT IN THE PAPER
If the reports are to be created on individual teachers, I think they should be confidential rather than public documents.
It is one thing to imagine a principal using the value-added analysis in the context of observing the teacher in the classroom, discussing the data with the teacher, offering the teacher support to improve, and checking whether the teacher uses that support--and doing all of that based on careful training in a system that allows appeals and reviews of the principal's judgments. I think it is possible to do that in a way that delivers for students and is fair to teachers.
It is quite another to imagine parents pulling the analysis from a website separated from all other information and controls. In that second model, there is huge opportunity for good teachers to have their skill and effort devalued. I do not see a way to make that fair to teachers. Further, trading off parents' knowledge against teachers' concerns, I do not see a way it nets out to helping improves student performance.
I can add that I think public release of individual teacher data will be politically impossible. Educators will fight that part fiercely enough to win. Only when I add that part, I do not want that political calculus to be the main argument. The main argument should be that we cannot make it fair and we cannot make it helpful to students.