Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has received considerable attention over the last couple of weeks as a result of his voiced support for tying teacher evaluation in Louisiana to student test score growth. Jindal said recently that a system which evaluates and financially rewards teachers based on student test scores is a central component of Louisiana’s Race to the Top proposal for overhauling the state’s education system; but that regardless of whether the Race to the Top proposal is successful, the state will move forth with developing and implementing the new evaluation system.
The system that Jindal is pushing for would evaluate teachers in part based on “value-added” measures of student performance. In other words, teachers would be evaluated on the amount of academic growth that students make over the course of the school year. Value-added measures differ significantly from absolute measures. In an evaluation system using absolute measures for evaluation, teachers might be evaluated on the percentage of students that meet a fixed or absolute standard. An example of such a standard would be the expectation the 80% of a teacher’s class scores at the level of “proficient” on end of the year standardized exams; or that all students in a teacher’s class are reading “at grade-level” by the end of the school year. The problem with such measures is that they fail to take into account students’ levels of performance when they enter a teacher’s classroom at the start of the school year. It is really pretty ridiculous to hold a teacher to the expectation that her eighth grade students will be reading at grade-level by the end of the year if he started the school year reading at the second grade level. Value-added measures, on the other hand, are measures of growth; so they do take into account students’ levels of performance at the start of the year and for extended periods of time. Value-added measures can also adjust for special student characteristics such as limited English proficiency, or learning disabilities.
Louisiana’s proposed use of such an evaluation system has garnered the state an unprecedented amount of positive attention for public education. This is not to suggest, however, that the proposal has not been criticized by some. In fact, the Louisiana School Boards Association’s Board of Directors is cautioning local boards of education to “evaluate very carefully before making final decisions” to sign onto the state’s Race to the Top proposal, charging that the “changes proposed do not rest on proven research and have been challenged by well recognized national authorities.” Also, the Louisiana Educators Association (LEA), Louisiana’s largest professional educators organization, has voted to not endorse the state’s Race to the Top proposal, citing among other reasons, the State Superintendent’s and Department of Education’s unwillingness to work with them on the teacher evaluation process. LAE’s major dissatisfaction with the state’s proposed evaluation system is the percentage that the value-added measures would account for in teachers’ overall evaluation. The LA Department of Education has proposed that the value-added measures would account for one-half of teachers’ evaluation, while LAE leadership would prefer that the measures account for no more than one-third of teachers’ evaluations. Louisiana’s second largest teachers union, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT), also has disagreements with some of the particulars of the proposed evaluation system, but has chosen to remain engaged with the state in the development and refinement of the Race to the Top proposal, with LFT president Steve Monaghan reasoning that “Too many Louisiana children are too poor with needs too great to walk away from a share of the $4.4 billion Race to the Top funds.”
In the end, I have no doubt that Louisiana’s bid for Race to the Top funding will be successful and the state will probably go on to lead the nation in using student performance measures as a major component of teacher evaluation. While not perfect, the value-added measures represent not only a significant improvement over using absolute measures for teacher evaluation, but also a much more common sense approach to setting expectations for teachers. There is a widely-held misperception that teachers are flatly opposed to being held accountable for student performance. That is untrue for most teachers. What most teachers argue is that they should not be held accountable things that are beyond their control. A classroom teacher has no control over a students’ learning before coming to his or her classroom. Teachers also argue that special student circumstances such as disabilities and limited English proficiency must be factored into setting expectations. The use of value-added measures for teacher evaluation purposes moves us a step closer to being able to hold teachers accountable for student performance without making them the whipping children for factors that they truly have no control over.