Talking to Teachers About Value-Added Measures

By Hella Bel Hadj Amor
June 2014

It’s easy to understand why teachers are not always thrilled when they learn their district is considering using value-added models to help evaluate their effectiveness. One concern teachers may have about any system that rates them based on their students’ performance is, What if, by design or luck of the draw, they teach many students who are academically challenged by factors beyond the teacher’s control? What if they teach students who are well below proficiency and are unlikely to reach it even if they grow substantially thanks to the teacher’s instruction? Could these types of circumstances cause an effective teacher to receive a low rating?

For district leaders, a key challenge in using measures of student growth, especially value-added ones, is creating communications to help minimize confusion and anxiety.

While value-added models are not currently widespread in the Northwest, they could be increasingly considered if the new state assessments have the appropriate properties to implement them. Several districts and states such as Washington DC Public Schools and Tennessee have been using such systems for years. Much can be learned from their experiences to help districts in the early stages communicate with teachers.

What DC Public Schools and others have found is that communication around value-added measures must happen early and often. The process should be as transparent as possible and teachers will need training to understand it. Involving them — as the professionals they are — in the design will help create buy in, as well as a quality evaluation system that emphasizes professional growth and support.

Two core messages are particularly worth repeating:

Measures of student learning, including value-added scores, are just one of several components of an educator’s overall effectiveness score.

While value-added models can add a degree of objectivity to an educator evaluation system, they do not provide specific information on an individual teacher’s strengths or weaknesses. The scores or rankings produced by statistical analysis are meant to supplement an existing evaluation and support system. They can confirm the results of the more subjective observation components — which provide detailed information on practice — or highlight discrepancies that will help teachers and their supervisors explore issues and provide solutions. Value-added scores do not stand alone in telling the story of a teacher’s performance, far from it. Teachers need to know this.

Value-added scores take into account students’ previous performance and often other characteristics (such as poverty, disabilities, language proficiency) to help ensure that teachers are treated fairly.

An important goal of value-added models is to create a system that measures the effect of a teacher on his or her students’ performance excluding factors beyond the teacher’s control. Adjustments can be made to account for student characteristics so teachers are not advantaged or disadvantaged by whom they teach. Research can help with how to do this. Again, this is an important concept for teachers to understand.

These messages might not resonate with teachers the first time they hear them, and what works in one district might not work in another. It’s worth it to repeat the messages and rework them as needed with teacher input.