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Value-Added and Other Measures of Teacher Quality: Policy Uses and Policy Validity
School districts, individual schools, and education policies all contribute to student achievement. But it can be argued that the most important contributing factor is the quality of the teacher in the classroom. Evaluating teacher quality is complicated, yet it has become even more important with the testing and assessment focus of No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
Teacher quality traditionally has been measured by considering ‘teacher characteristics,’ for example, the teacher’s academic degrees, personality, and professional development activities. Recently, though, researchers and policy makers have begin to embrace a ‘value-added’ approach to measurement. This set of statistical methods offers a more objective and more precise way to measure the value that teachers, schools, and districts add to students’ educational experiences.
But UW-Madison education professor Douglas Harris* cautions that measuring teacher quality cannot result from choosing between the traditional ‘teacher characteristics’ measure nor a simple value-added measure.
Instead, it’s necessary to use multiple measures, including formative and summative assessments. Evaluating and improving teacher quality requires a comprehensive strategy that few current or proposed policies provide, Harris says. Evidence suggests that teachers should be rewarded not for their graduate degrees, but for a combination of experience, certain types of professional development, teacher value-added and school value-added.
Current proposals shift away from the traditional ‘teacher credentials’ strategy in favor of a value-added accountability strategy. That is warranted, Harris says, but it’s possible to go too far. New policies will fail if they only reinforce the limitations of the status quo, rather than facilitate innovation and success. Harris advocates an evaluation framework he refers to as “policy validity” which involves multiple measures.
Program Evaluation and Accountability
Value-added modeling for accountability, or VAM-A, identifies the effectiveness of each individual teacher as measured by student achievement on standardized test scores. Harris’s findings regarding the validity of VAM-A:
These first two findings are good news for VAM-A but, as Harris argues, there is also some bad news:
Overall, Harris concludes that there are clear advantages and disadvantages to using accountability measures versus credentials. Although VAM-P yields fairly precise estimates of the effects of teacher credentials, these effects are small, and they explain little of the total variation value-added. In contrast, the VAM-A measures are imprecise, but they imprecisely measure what is of greatest interest. Also, to the degree that student test scores can and should be used to evaluate teachers, VAM-A is better than the alternatives.
Policy and methodological aspects of VAM will be the focus of the National Conference on Value-Added Modeling, organized by Harris, Adam Gamoran and a group of non-UW researchers and sponsored by the Carnegie, Joyce, and Spencer Foundations at the University of Wisconsin-Madison April 23-24, 2008. Click here for more information.
For more information on Doug Harris’s research, see www.teacherqualityresearch.org and his personal Web site (http://www.education.wisc.edu/eps/faculty/harris.asp).
*Harris serves on the federal technical working group that advises TIF districts (the Teacher Incentive Fund), a voluntary pilot program by which the federal government encourages ‘merit’ or ‘performance’ pay approaches.