Is there value in value-added teacher assessments? Part 1

In August of last year the Los Angeles Times threw a firebomb into the educational reform debate. As statisticians, educators and government officials continued to dispute over the merits of “value-added” teacher assessments in policy journals and administrative offices, the newspaper’s editors leapfrogged the debate. They decided to name names.

The article began provocatively:

“The fifth-graders at Broadous Elementary School come from the same world — the poorest corner of the San Fernando Valley, a Pacoima neighborhood framed by two freeways where some have lost friends to the stray bullets of rival gangs.

“Many are the sons and daughters of Latino immigrants who never finished high school, hard-working parents who keep a respectful distance and trust educators to do what’s best.

“The students study the same lessons. They are often on the same chapter of the same book.

“Yet year after year, one fifth-grade class learns far more than the other down the hall. The difference has almost nothing to do with the size of the class, the students or their parents.

“It’s their teachers.

With Miguel Aguilar, students consistently have made striking gains on state standardized tests, many of them vaulting from the bottom third of students in Los Angeles schools to well above average, according to a Times analysis. John Smith’s pupils next door have started out slightly ahead of Aguilar’s but by the end of the year have been far behind. “

So what was the LA Times up to? Here’s their explanation:

“Seeking to shed light on the problem, The Times obtained seven years of math and English test scores from the Los Angeles Unified School District and used the information to estimate the effectiveness of L.A. teachers — something the district could do but has not.

“The Times used a statistical approach known as value-added analysis, which rates teachers based on their students’ progress on standardized tests from year to year. Each student’s performance is compared with his or her own in past years, which largely controls for outside influences often blamed for academic failure: poverty, prior learning and other factors.

“Though controversial among teachers and others, the method has been increasingly embraced by education leaders and policymakers across the country, including the Obama administration.

“In coming months, The Times will publish a series of articles and a database analyzing individual teachers’ effectiveness in the nation’s second-largest school district — the first time, experts say, such information has been made public anywhere in the country.”

It probably won’t be the last. If New York City Civil Court Judge Cynthia Kern’s ruling stands, New York City will be able to release the value-added ratings of 12,000 New York teachers, names and all. Arguing that “the public has an interest in the job performance of public employees, particularly in the field of education,” the judge’s opinion also asserts that “courts have repeatedly held that release of job-performance related information, even negative information such as that involving misconduct, does not constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy.” Not surprisingly, the teacher’s union is appealing the ruling. New York City is holding off publication until the legal case is settled.

So what do you think? We encourage responses from teachers, parents and administrators – both those of you with technical or professional background in this area and those who simply have something to say. Remember that this blog is based on the assumption that we can engage in a civil dialogue, that we share a common goal of improving education for all of our children and that we want to educate ourselves.

Tomorrow we look at the issue in Utah and explore in detail what value-added assessment actually assesses.

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