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News & Press: Assessments & Standards

The Problem with Value-Added

Thursday, September 17, 2015   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Professional Educators of Tennessee
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Originally published in TREND magazine at 







Student performance on assessments can be measured in two very different ways, both of which are important. Achievement describes the knowledge or proficiency of an individual in something that has been learned or taught. This is measured by achievement tests where students are compared to other students in their grade. Growth, in comparison, describes the increase made over the academic year. The student is their own baseline.


To determine growth in Tennessee, a value-added model was invented by statistician Dr. William Sanders. Sanders and his team at the agriculture school at the University of Tennessee developed a model based on theories applied in agricultural genetics. This theory was developed during a perfect economic and political storm. By 1992 the Tennessee Supreme Court ordered a more equitable funding system for public schools. This action created renewed interest in education accountability, and Sanders’ formula was included in Tennessee’s Educational Improvement Act.


In general, value-added models use sophisticated statistical algorithms and standardized test results, combined with other information about students, to determine a “value-added score.” The running joke among Tennessee educators is that the algorithm of our model is a more closely guarded secret than the Coca-Cola formula. The Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) is only one of many models used across the country.


No one will deny that educators need to be held accountable just like members of any other profession. As a condition of receiving a Race to the Top grant, the federal government put an increased emphasis on value-added accountability systems. States that received Race to the Top money further linked teacher evaluation plans to value-added measures. In the future, states need to be wary of being coerced with federal money to adopt education policies.


As value-added models have become increasingly widespread and carry higher stakes, questions concerning the validity and reliability of their results have grown more important. The teacher is often deemed the determining factor in a students’ growth (or lack thereof). The problem with this from an educator perspective is at least three-fold:


•    Problem # 1 - Are the students’ socio-economic statuses considered when growth is determined? Using a student’s original scores as a baseline appears to address this issue, but educators know that circumstances can change in an instant. What if a student’s physiological needs (food/shelter) along with the need to feel safe or loved are no longer being met? How can any teacher expect a student to learn grammar rules or multiplication facts if a parent lost a job or passed away? Valued-added does not address social-emotional issues surrounding a child.


•    Problem # 2 - What if the students in a school or district consistently score in the 80-90 percentile? When student scores are consistently above average, there is little room for growth. This negatively affects teachers’ scores.


•    Problem # 3 - What is measured? Most achievement tests measure English/Reading and Mathematics. Even the new TNCore tests will only test the literary aspects of Science and Social Studies. What if you teach PE or music? Where will your value-added scores come from?


On the surface, value added assessment appears to be a reasonable method to measure growth of a student on more than just how they perform on achievement tests. And we agree with that. The problem lies when the teacher is graded (evaluated) based on these valued-added scores. There is too much room subjectively. It simply is not fair for a teacher’s livelihood to be based on extenuating factors that he or she cannot control.


Moreover, a teacher should never be punished for the zip code in which they teach, who their students are or which subjects they teach. Each school is as unique as the community it serves. There must be more equitable way to determine teacher quality, success and effectiveness. Perhaps the value-added accountability model, which was created in 1992, needs to be re-examined, updated and perhaps replaced by something less contentious and less likely to be misused by administrators and policymakers. Until that formula has been created, tested and proven with ALL teachers, teachers’ scores and salaries should not be tied to it.





Bethany Bowman is the Director of Professional Learning for Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Brentwood, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee. To schedule an interview please contact Audrey Shores, Director of Communications, at 1-800-471-4867 ext.102.

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