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"Value Added": Grading Teachers Through Student Growth


Schools get rated based on how well students perform on standardized state tests. Not so for teachers. Their main evaluation comes from often brief classroom observations by a principal. Practically no one fails. The new value-added measurement Ohio is phasing in aims to gauge how much a student learns from one year to the next, and how much an individual teacher contributed to those results. WHAT IS VALUE-ADDED Matt Cohen, the chief research officer at the Ohio Department of Education says there should be a link between student performance and teacher evaluations. “If we say that teachers are very important to the instruction, to the learning of kids, and if we believe that, and most people do believe that, then there should be a connection,â€? he says. “That’s one of the great things about value-added,â€? says John White with the North Carolina statistical analysis firm that Ohio hired to calculate the new value-added numbers. White explains value-added like this: “Teacher value added uses all available student testing history and links the individual students that are connected to teachers in specific subjects and grades to measure the amount of progress those students are making.â€? The model predicts how much improvement students should make based on past results. In a nutshell, if a student ends up performing better than predicted, the teacher gets the credit with a high “value-added’ grade. But if the student scores less than expected, the teacher gets the blame and a low grade. Eventually, this grade will be a major component that determines a teacher’s pay and employment. “We’re basically measuring whether or not they maintained their same relative position with respect to the statewide student achievement from one year to the next,â€? says White. WHAT THE DATA SHOW An analysis by StateImpact Ohio and the Cleveland Plain Dealer found that most teachers fall in the middle of the rankings. Our findings also show that students in wealthy districts are three times more likely to have teachers with the highest value-added scores than their peers in high poverty schools, who are more likely to encounter teachers rated “least effective.â€? Or, to put it another way, teachers in poorer districts overall aren’t doing as well as their peers in richer districts at adding a year’s worth of knowledge. “To say that a teacher’s very low on value-added doesn’t in and of itself tell you that that’s a bad teacher,â€? ODE’s Matt Cohen says. “We can’t say that, and we’re not trying to say that. We are trying to say that’s a piece of information that a teacher, and the school should make use of.â€? Cohen says student test scores aren’t the only thing that matter; classroom observation and other tools will help determine a teacher’s final evaluation. TEACHERS REACT Some teachers who’ve been part of this experiment don’t take a lot of solace in that caveat. Forest Park Middle School teacher Maria Plecnik says he bosses, colleagues and students all say she’s a highly effective teacher. Her latest evaluation backs that up. The only person who doesn’t find me effective is the state of Ohio who has never stepped foot in my classroom,â€? Plecnik says. Last year, her value-added score was “least effective.â€? This was Plecnik’s last year of teaching – she quit the profession. Other teachers have taken the news more positively. Emily Brown is a Toledo teacher who saw her ranking in 7th grade reading slip from “most effectiveâ€? to “averageâ€? last year. She says she’s not discouraged, and the results from value-added may be useful, “because how are you going to know if they gained anything?â€? This three-day series about Ohio’s new way of measuring teacher performance is the result of a partnership between The Plain Dealer and StateImpact Ohio which is a collaboration of public radio stations WCPN, WKSU and WOSU. StateImpact reporters Molly Bloom and Ida Lieszkovszky worked with Plain Dealer reporter Patrick O'Donnell and Plain Dealer data analysis editor Rich Exner to produce these stories.