Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Grading teachers- Value-added test is indispensable

There's GREAT, really important stuff going on in Houston (see my earlier post at:  Joel Klein wrote this editorial supporting the reforms there, rooted in value-added testing:

Grading teachers

Value-added test is indispensable


Feb. 20, 2010, 7:44PM

Both research and experience tell us that teachers matter. In fact, they matter more than any other factor that we can control in a student's education — more than dollars spent per student, class size or the type and quality of textbooks. No reform is more critical to closing the nation's shameful achievement gap than boosting the quality of teachers in high-poverty schools. "The single most important factor in determining [student] achievement is not the color of their skin or where they come from," says President Barack Obama. "It's not who their parents are or how much money they have — it's who their teacher is." Without "the right people standing in front of the classroom," the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution concludes, "school reform is a futile exercise."

The Houston Independent School District is taking a critical step to ensure that all its students are taught by top-notch teachers. Superintendent Terry Grier — who has long been a true warrior in the national fight to close the achievement gap — is making an important move by recommending that the teacher evaluation process include an examination of student achievement data. The data will look at how much learning a student gains over one year. This type of data is called "value-added," meaning that it analyzes only the change across one year relative to where a student begins, a leveling of the playing field that allows us to isolate teacher impact. Value-added data will be one element in a set of criteria that are used to gauge a teacher's effectiveness in the classroom.

To be sure, value-added analysis is still a work in progress, and methodological challenges remain. Yet for all its imperfections, value-added analysis is a vast improvement on the existing system, which fails to address the one question that really matters: Compared to other educators with similar students and facing similar challenges, how well are a given teacher's students actually acquiring the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in life? While experts debate the finer points of the value-added model, it is now clear that, at minimum, it is a fair way to identify those teachers who are truly failing our students. Value-added data should never be the only metric by which we assess teachers, but honestly, how can it not be in the mix?

In Houston, parents should commend the insistent and persistent Grier for his effort to close the racial and ethnic achievement gap by ensuring that every child is taught by an effective teacher. Grier is a signatory of the Education Equality Project (, a bipartisan advocacy organization of elected officials, civil rights activists, educators and other leaders who believe eliminating this gap is the most pressing civil rights issue of our generation. And Houston is among a handful of cities leading the nation in closing the achievement gap.

Klein is chancellor of New York City public schools and co-chair of the Education Equality Project.

 Subscribe in a reader