Although it seems all the rage in education circles, we wonder about the application of "value-added" judgments in measuring how much schools are really teaching students.
A value-added weight has been part of Louisiana's accountability program for schools, but a new plan would drastically increase it. The plan was endorsed by the Accountability Commission Wednesday, and now goes to the state education board.
It deserves a great deal of discussion.
Under the change, school performance scores that make up the grades will include a first-ever academic growth factor — 25 percent — for all students. The new rules would triple the value of yearly growth in the classroom, which is 7 percent now and only applies to struggling students.
As so often in education, this is a formula for the adults more than the children. In assigning a performance grade to schools, it would place more emphasis on a school's progress in meeting basic standards rather than the achievement of the standards themselves.
And the proposal could be worse, as some argued for a 35 percent weighting.
Instead of formulas and percentages, what is the effect of value-added metrics like this one? A struggling student is helped by his teacher, who deserves every bit of credit for bringing along his reading skills, and as a result his test scores go up — and under the new plan the school performance score gets a big boost.
But if the boy is still reading at a 4th grade level in 7th grade, what is more critical, the value-added metric of the dedication of the teacher, or the fact that he is in serious academic trouble, and the school is failing his future? The latter is what we must measure.
Another case might be the girl in a magnet school with parents dedicated to her learning. She is going to grow academically in the classroom, but a value-added standard means a harsher school performance assessment because the growth in her scores is limited. That's because academically, she doesn’t have as far to grow as a struggling student.
Debbie Meaux, a commission member and president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said schools rated "C," "D"and "F" stand to benefit the most. "The "A" and "B" schools are going to have a big problem when they have to go out into the community and explain why they dropped," she said.
True, and certainly the schools must be concerned with their gifted children. But the social costs of inflating school grades with value-added scores are in those "D" and "F" schools.
"This is a value judgment," said Jessica Baghian, assistant superintendent for assessments and accountability for the state Department of Education. "There is no right answer."
Yes, there is a right answer. It is to base school performance scores on results, because while value-added boosts are valid and necessary, they are not sufficient if students fail to achieve academically enough to work and live in an increasingly technological society.
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