Contextualizing Value-added

Implementation is everything.

I’m not philosophically against the notion that we ought to be expecting teachers to “add value” to students’ schooling experience.  However, when we use prescriptive tests to decide how much value is added, I take issue.  For example, in TN a restructuring of compensation is about to be implemented.  This system seems quite comprehensive and my first reaction was to think of Occam’s razor.  That is, this complex system seems to be just a new way to reward the same stuff.  Of course there are some differences – most notably the 35% of teacher’s rating from a value added measure based on Tennessee’s state exam.

So, the implicit message here is that certain things matter.  Those things are covered by a certain test.  Yet, schooling is so very much more than acquisition of certain content.  So, my beef is not with expecting teachers to add value, my beef is with expecting teachers to add certain value. When we prescribe these certain tests, my concern is that we prescribe a greater narrowing of the curriculum.  I am confident this country’s teachers can raise test scores, I’m just not sure we’re using tests on which improved test scores are desirable.

Enough complaining, how about a different idea?

When teaching middle school I often studied my students’ learning.  I gave students pretests (sometimes MC, sometimes essays, sometimes interviews, and sometimes concept maps) and then monitored student progress all the way until the end of the year (usually at least one mid-year assessment and then a final assessment)*.  The things I tracked throughout the year were academic/educational interests of mine.  Things I wanted to study how well students were learning.  The things I studied went far deeper than any standardized test I’ve seen or heard of.  Specifically, in the last two years of my k-12 teaching I studied how well students came to understand the nature of science and how students views of learning changed over time.  In both cases, my students made significant progress over the course of the year.  That is, I could reliably demonstrate added value for each of my students.  Yet, the value I could demonstrate having added is not the value for which the state would be looking.**

While I love to rage against the machine, I also like to “work the system”.  So, if value added measures are coming (and I suspect they are in my state), let’s put politicians’ money where their mouth is and actually treat teachers like professionals.  Let’s actually put power in teachers’ hands instead of just claiming to do so.

Here’s a very simple proposal***:

1) Teachers choose at least one of their goals for students to study each year. (i.e.: content understanding, communication skills, writing proficiency, critical thinking, problem-solving, attitude toward subject, or many others).  If a group of teachers wants to work collaboratively on a goal, great!

2) Professional development days are dedicated to teachers being able to research how they might promote their chosen goal, research how they might reliably assess the construct, and/or collaborate with peers to plan.

3) Teachers identify how they will track progress concerning their goal.  Ideally, tracking of progress is multi-dimensional.  Perhaps an instrument already exists in the education literature for pre/post testing, students might reflect periodically on the goal, or maybe the teacher will review classroom video to see what changes are, or are not, occurring.

4) Teachers will summarize results and perhaps present to colleagues, or at least to administrators.  I see “lessons learned” (what worked/didn’t work) being just as important as the actual improvement of students.  The 35% of “value added” could be tied to the success of the intervention or even just the completion of such a study (cause we learn a LOT from failure).

Will such a system be more work for teachers? yes.

Will such a system raise the awareness of many teachers? yes.

Will such a system stimulate school-wide improvement? yes.

Will such a system be more authentic and likely more interesting for teachers? yes.

Will such a system allow for context-based improvement of practice? yes.

Is such a system new? not really (see: action research or lesson study)

Will such a system be a better use of money? yes – we don’t need to be dumping tax-payers money into testing companies.

If we want to give teachers bonuses, learn from google and give them freedom in what they choose to study/create.  If we want to tie teacher compensation to value added, teachers ought to decide what is of most value in their context.

*Of course I assessed students much more often than this, these were just the more formal, long term assessments.

**I would challenge anyone to say improving a students view of learning is less important than learning the formula for density.  (d=m/v)

***I pretty much wrote this as I brainstorm.  I think there is something here, but it would obviously need some refinement.  The key here is giving teachers choice in how and what they improve.  Imagine if a teacher did a study like this every year for 30 years….wow!

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11 Responses to Contextualizing Value-added

  1. Jerrid,
    Because you taught in Iowa, I’m guessing you’re familiar with our Individual Career Development Plans (http://educateiowa.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=296&Itemid=1282). These can be done in collaboration with other teachers. In what ways might the ideals in this post supplement the existing ICDPs? In what ways does it differ?

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    • jerridkruse says:

      I think there is a lot of overlap. Tying such plans/studies to pay would certainly be different. Also, I envision greater flexibility in teacher inquiry. The ICDPs seem to focus pretty heavy on building/district goals as well as data to generate the goals. This is all well and good, but limiting. What if the building goal is X, but I want to study Y because it applies more directly to my class? Teacher inquiry (that’s the name i’m attaching to above) seems more flexible. But A LOT of overlap.

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  2. Russ Goerend says:

    We refer to it as ITPDP in Waukee and we have the choice of aligning it with our building goal or doing our own and the choice of working collaboratively on the goal with our PLC or doing our own goal.

    The ITPDP was the first thing that came to mind while reading your idea, Jerrid. I like it.

    What would it look like to *not* meet the requirements to get that 35% (or whatever)? I have to say the ITPDP is more of a framework for something teachers just do as opposed to “above and beyond” or am I not quite getting it? Is your goal to “reward” something we’re already doing?

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    • Russ,
      I think you’re on to something. Jerrid said, “The key here is giving teachers choice in how and what they improve.” Whether an ITPDP exists or not, teachers *always* have a choice to improve any and all aspects of their classroom. For example, no one told me that the way I assessed and graded students was awful. I decided it was, so I started an action research project on homework which turned into a move towards standards-based assessment and reporting. Tying it to a more results-oriented mindset and/or bringing in “rewards” may be the new idea here. Like you, Russ, I’m wondering where the new line in the sand is. Looking forward to hearing more from Jerrid.

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      • jerridkruse says:

        Matt,
        I made it very clear in my post that I don’t believe this to be anything new. However, we have some teachers who likely take the path of least resistance in these ITPDP /ICDPs. Perhaps somehow a component of teacher pay could be tied to the rigor of the action research…but then how do we decide what makes action research more/less rigorous?

        I think what is new, is that the system I’m proposing (and already exists in some fashion) places importance on these action research projects. Right now all emphasis is being placed on standardized test scores. So, let’s put emphasis on the outcomes of teacher inquiry – this will be more meaningful and contextual for teachers, IMO.

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    • jerridkruse says:

      All merit systems reward good teachers for what they are already doing. It’s one reason merit systems show no gains. I guess i was just wondering how we could somehow tie teacher pay to something more meaningful than a score on a particular test.

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      • Russ Goerend says:

        Makes sense.

        Admittedly, I don’t spend much (if any) time thinking about my pay. I am lucky to be in a district where I get paid well for what I do. I don’t have much to compare “well” to, though, as I’ve never done anything but be a teacher (and come from a family of teachers).

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        • jerridkruse says:

          You and most teachers I suspect. Hell, I essentially took a pay cut to work at a university. This is another reason merit pay doesn’t work in education – (most) teachers aren’t driven by such things. However, if the politicians are going to force some form of capitalism on us, we might as well start thinking about how we could tie pay to performance in meaningful ways. Cause I don’t see tying it to standardized tests as meaningful. I see it as least common denominator.

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  3. Russ Goerend says:

    #4 was the important point for me. That’s what I would want my reward to be. Let’s take two days after school is out and have a building conference where we’re presenting to each other, etc. That’s the part that I don’t see happening (enough, at least) right now.

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    • jerridkruse says:

      agreed. Imagine a school where teachers were not only inquiring about their own practice (it’s much less common then either of you imply), but sharing the results of those inquiries! This is actually what I believe teaching was like in the early 1900’s. When i go back and read early research journals most of the articles are written by classroom teachers.

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  4. Hi, my name is Sherrele Grimes and I’m taking EDM310 this summer. First off,I love the fact that your challenging the testing system.Teachers don’t have to agree with everything that they are required to do.If teachers were able to asses their students on their desired content,parents would receive much better feedback on their children and kids self esteem would be boosted.

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