Study: Disadvantaged students in U.S. are gaining

U.S.15-year-olds fare better on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) exam when the data is adjusted to compare similar students concludes a study by Stanford Graduate School of Education and Economic Policy Institute researchers. Low-income students in  the U.S. are gaining on disadvantaged students elsewhere, the study found.

Overall, the U.S.  ranked 14th in reading and 25th in math out of the 33 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), notes the Hechinger Report.

The United States has a larger proportion of economically disadvantaged students than do higher-performing countries. Finland, for example, reports that 4 percent of its students live in low-income families. In the United States, nearly a quarter of children live in poverty.

(Stanford Professor Martin) Carnoy and his coauthor Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute also contend that low-income students were oversampled in the U.S. results on the 2009 PISA test. About 40 percent of American PISA-takers attended a school where half or more of students were eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch, although nationwide only 23 percent of students attend such schools.

The most educationally disadvantaged U.S. students, as measured by the number of books in children’s homes, have been improving in reading and math since PISA was first given in 2000, the new analysis concludes. Test scores among similar students in Canada, Finland and South Korea have been dropping.

“We’re making progress with the kids at the bottom,” said Carnoy.  However, the most economically advantaged U.S. students in America are slipping compared to similar students in the countries analyzed.

To “go after the academic issues in the U.S. schools,” it’s necessary to tackle Poverty, Carnoy argues. “If you do policy that significantly reduces poverty in the U.S., I guarantee you, you will reduce the distance between top and bottom in our own country … and you’ll certainly raise those kids relative to kids in Finland, [South] Korea and Canada.”

Perhaps we can’t be Korea or Finland, but it would be nice to up there with Canada.

Scholars back value-added’s value

Value-added data on student performance adds value to teacher evaluations, concludes a Brookings report by a group of well-respected scholars.  “We conclude that value-added data has an important role to play in teacher evaluation systems, but that there is much to be learned about how best to use value-added information in human resource decisions.”

At Teacher Beat, Stephen Sawchuk summarizes:

While an imperfect measure of teacher effectiveness, the correlation of year-to-year value-added estimates of teacher effectiveness is similar to predictive measures for informing high-stakes decisions in other fields, the report states. Examples include using SAT scores to determine college entrance, mortality rates and patient volume as quality measures for surgeons and hospitals, and batting averages as a gauge for selecting baseball talent.

Statistical predictions in those fields are imprecise, too, but they’re able to predict larger differences across providers than other measures and so are used, the authors write.

The traditional method of evaluating teachers identifies nearly all as effective, the Brookings authors write. That’s both inaccurate and harmful to students.

“When teacher evaluation that incorporates value-added is compared against an abstract ideal, it can easily be found wanting in that it provides only a fuzzy signal. But when it is compared to performance information in other fields in other fields or to evaluations of teachers based on other sources of information, it looks respectable and appears to provide the best signal we’ve got.”

By contrast, the Economic Policy Institute and the National Academy of Sciences issued reports criticizing the reliability of value-added measures and arguing the data should not be used to evaluate teachers.