Value-added attempts to remove the difference between kids' poverty levels and other issues by trying to compare performances by similar students - apples to apples. At some point teachers can even be compared to each other based on how the same kids performed in their particular classes. Supposedly. But all issues point to flawed models.
An excellent essay by Aaron Pallas at Gotham addresses many of these issues. (For those not aware, Pallas was a Jennifer Jennings (Eduwonkette) mentor at Columbia and blogged under the Skoolboy mantle.) There's so much meat here, that I pretty much took a few excerpts at random. Read it all.
"I trust that Chancellor Tisch and Commissioner Steiner are not seduced by claims that the single most important determinant of a child’s achievement is the quality of his or her teachers, because that’s simply not true. Family background continues to be the dominant factor. But the quality of teachers is, at least in theory, something that is manipulable via education policy initiatives, and it’s a lot more tractable than addressing the fact that one in five children under the age of 18 in New York State live below the poverty line.
it’s striking that the recommendations single out value-added student assessment data as components of both the portfolios of candidates for professional certification and of the profiles of certifying institutions. Simply put, the technology for using value-added student assessment data for these purposes is not ready for prime time, and likely will not be for many years to come. One major obstacle is the lack of reliable and valid measures of student performance that can serve as the basis for value-added assessments of teacher effectiveness.
I’m saying to Commissioner Steiner and Chancellor Tisch, “Clean up the state assessment system — and take the time to do it right. Then we can talk about value-added assessment.”
But beyond the many questions about value-added effects on students’ test scores, we should be asking, how do we assess a teacher’s contributions to other learning outcomes? Surely we care about more than test scores. What are good measures of a teacher’s contributions to preparing students to be competent citizens in our democracy? How much are the Board of Regents and the State Education Department willing to invest in creating measures that will capture how well teachers teach students to think, question and act?
A brief vignette may reveal the challenge. It’s January, and Ms. Bilsky, a fourth-grade teacher in the Bronx, is teaching a math lesson. The subject is geometry, and the lesson is about how to classify angles as either acute or obtuse. The topic is a standard from the state’s math core curriculum. In the middle of the lesson, Rashid, a boy in the class, audibly aims a racial slur at his classmate Javier. Ms. Bilsky hears it, but she chooses to ignore it, instead plowing ahead with the lesson. At the end of the year, the students in Ms. Bilsky’s class did a bit better on the state math assessment than the students in other fourth-grade classrooms in the Bronx.
Now, is that good teaching?
The value-added assessment will tell us that it is good teaching.
Now this essay is what I call good teaching by Professor Pallas. I hope Regent leader Meryl Tisch and new State Ed commish Steiner learned something, but somehow I doubt it.
I might also add this question: How come college professors like Pallas and parent activists like Leonie Haimson can do so much effective defenses of teachers than the UFT and AFT?