What’s the value of value-added?

New York City will release value-added rankings of teachers in fourth through eighth grade, if a United Federation of Teachers lawsuit fails. That’s intensified the debate over evaluating teachers based on their students’ progress, reports Education Week.  Traditionally, virtually all teachers — from Mr. Chips to Mrs. Burnout — are judged “satisfactory.”

“It’s universally acknowledged—teacher evaluations are broken,” said Timothy Daly, president of The New Teacher Project, a group that helps school districts recruit and train teachers.

Perhaps surprisingly, teacher-union leaders agree. Michael Mulgrew, president of New York City’s United Federation of Teachers (UFT), said last spring that “the current evaluation system doesn’t work for teachers—it’s too subjective, lacks specific criteria and is too dependent on the whims and prejudices of principals.”

Mulgrew supported New York’s new evaluation system, which counts student achievement as 40 percent of a teacher’s rating.

“Value-added” measurements use complex statistical models to project a student’s future gains based on his or her past performance, taking into account how similar students perform. The idea is that good teachers add value by helping students progress further than expected, and bad teachers subtract value by slowing their students down.

Value-added modeling is too inaccurate to be used as the “primary way to evaluate teachers,” says an Economic Policy Institute statement signed by many prominent education researchers. In addition, “an excessive focus on basic math and reading scores can lead to narrowing and over-simplifying the curriculum to only the subjects and formats that are tested, reducing the attention to science, history, the arts, civics, and foreign language, as well as to writing, research, and more complex problem solving tasks.”

Although standardized test scores of students are one piece of information for school leaders to use to make judgments about teacher effectiveness, such scores should be only a part of an overall comprehensive evaluation.

Diane Ravitch, one of the signers, argues against releasing teacher performance data in the New York Daily News.

Twenty-five states and hundreds of districts use measures of student achievement in teacher evaluations, writes Richard Colvin on HechingerEd. However, student achievement counts for less than half of a New York  teacher’s evaluation. So, it’s not the primary way teachers are evaluated.

I don’t think anyone argues that value-added scores should be the primary way to evaluate teachers. The question is whether the scores, which will be available only for some teachers, should be used at all.

My problem is that the other aspects of “comprehensive evaluation,” such as classroom observations, are subjective and “dependent on the whims and prejudices of principals.”  Many teachers say they have no faith in their principal’s ability to judge good teaching fairly and intelligently. If teachers’ effectiveness can’t be judged accurately by principals and can’t be judged accurately by student achievement, what’s left?

Update: Ed Sector’s Bill Tucker looks at how New York City is Putting Data Into Practice “to create an evidence-based and collaborative teaching culture.”

About Joanne


  1. Create an evaluation team comprising the principal and master teachers trained in evaluation. Of course, that would require releasing those teachers for observation time, which would cost money.

  2. There is also the problem that observations frequently become tools to insure teachers are complying with the latest fad, not actually being effective teachers. Unfortunately, effective teaching and the programs implemented in a district are frequently different things.

  3. Cue Darren’s broken record: see the teacher evaluation system used by Supt. Mike Miles in Harrison District 2 in Colorado Springs….

  4. Roger Sweeny says:

    If teachers’ effectiveness can’t be judged accurately by principals and can’t be judged accurately by student achievement, what’s left?

    Possession of an ed degree. Completion of more ed courses and participation in ed workshops and professional development. Yet another ed degree.

    Maybe it’s not a coincidence that so many ed professors oppose any kind of value added system.

  5. using value added is unfair b/c, as joanne mentioned, those scores are basically limited to the math and reading teachers. now, a couple of scenarios may play out. at my old middle school, they tried to make every teacher in the building teach one reading and one math class — granted, they were in addition to the regular math and reading classes which were taught by qualified teachers. the admin thought this move would show students that math and reading are for all subject areas, and that the teachers would all feel the urgency of moving our students in those 2 areas. that was a mess.
    the second situation is this: math and reading are more important than any other subjects. way more important. all of the focus is there, so students begin to devalue their other classes. and other teachers resent that — i say this from my experience of hearing our related arts teachers voice their concerns about this very issue.
    so, while i think teacher eval needs to be improved, i think value added is not a wise addition.

  6. tim-10-ber says:

    I have a question…when evaluating a teacher is it possible to use both a “what” and a “how” methodology? On the what the teachers would be assessed based on how the students performed at year end (after getting a base line at the very start of the year and a mid-year read) on teacher assessments that are rigorous and designed by neutral parties who know the curriculum but the assessments are not seen by the teachers until given — meaning the teachers have to teach the curriculum and at a high level as they have no idea what is being assessed.

    The second part of the evaluation is on the “how”. This is done by evaluations/surveys/observations form the students, teachers, peers, administrators, independent observes, etc and measures how the teacher performed — collaborative, teaming, yelling vs encouraging, good classroom management, etc?

    I am throwing out ideas…in my line of work I have specific goals that are generally out of my control due to market conditions or competition but I am held accountable for meeting or exceeding the what (80% of my year end evaluation) and the how (20% of my evaluation but if I do the “how” well it can be worth more in terms of a multiplier effect).

    Just trying to throw out something that seems to make more sense than test data from one day in time vs truly seeing how the teachers help students progress from the start of the year through the end of the year…

    Is this doable? If not, I want specifics on why not…thanks!

  7. Well, a high school diploma is *supposed* to represent a “what” – a certain level of education (ability to read, write, do mathematics, understand civics, arts, etc.) so it makes sense to use student progress towards that goal to help evaluate teachers.

    The “how” is important only in that some approaches don’t work, or don’t work as well – soI don’t believe that individual teachers should be evaluated on process.

    On the other hand, large-scale rigorous evaluations of entire curricula (such as http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Follow_Through) are definitely useful, as they can provide teachers, schools, and districts with the tools to make all their students more successful.

  8. Tim-10-ber says…”In my line of work I have specific goals that are generally out of my control due to market conditions or competition but I am held accountable for meeting or exceeding the what (80% of my year end evaluation) and the how (20% of my evaluation but if I do the “how” well it can be worth more in terms of a multiplier effect)”

    …and when people are measured rigorously on results, they often get very creative about ways to achieve those results, put in extra effort, and accomplish things that would probably just not get done in an unmeasured environment. As Dr Johnson says, when a man knows that he is to be hanged in a fortnight it concentrates his mind wonderfully.

  9. In California, we have very rigorous and sound standards for the teaching profession. In my district, we must prepare a portfolio demonstrating our proficiency in these standards. A major problem is that administrators seldom have the time (or make the time) to seriously review the portfolios, let alone make sufficient classroom observations to really assess teachers.

    Administrators can and sometimes do use the evaluation process to punish teachers with whom they disagree, or to impose policy or curriculum decisions. One benefit of unions is that they provide grievance support to teachers who have been wrongly accused of misconduct or who have suffered prejudicial evaluations.