In the summer of 2010, the LA Times made national waves by publishing Los Angeles Unified School District’s teacher names and value-added estimates. The New York Times followed suit in February, 2012, ranking New York City’s teachers based on their value-added ratings. While these bold actions may satisfy some parents and policy makers who want accountability from education systems, they can damage teacher morale by undermining the very purpose of value-added analyses, which is to inform continuous improvement. When value-added estimates are taken out of context in this manner, the public cannot see any accompanying diagnostic reports that highlight strengths and weaknesses to guide instructional or programmatic adjustments. I think that Jim Mahoney, Executive Director of Battelle for Kids, summed it up well in a recent blog:
“Value-added information should not be used to name, blame, and shame; it should be a catalyst to uncover, discover, and recover. The idea that listing individual teacher scores in the newspaper will drive better results is akin to suggesting that the track coach can get better results by simply telling the kids to run faster. Multiple data points over time from multiple perspectives are crucial because teaching and learning and the evaluation of teaching and learning are complex.”
It’s not the value-added analyses that are inherently flawed, but the policies around their use that vary widely. Many states have passed legislation to protect teacher value-added or general evaluation data within personnel files so that these feedback tools can be discussed privately between teachers and their evaluators. Many states and districts have simultaneously made strides to satisfy the public’s rightful desire for school-level performance data: See Pennsylvania’s, Tennessee’s and Ohio’s public sites.
I want to focus this blog, however, on the efforts of one North Carolinian community to educate various stakeholders and publicly recognize school and teacher-level value-added gains. Knightdale schools are a cluster of community schools within the large, urban Wake County Public School System (WCPSS). Knightdale’s schools have historically been low performing based solely on achievement on state standardized tests. However, value-added reporting uncovered that many of the Knightdale schools and teachers were highly effective in advancing student progress toward proficiency. In an effort to highlight these successes to the community, the Knightdale town government (including Mayor Russell Killen and staff), non-profits, local companies, parents, and schools forged a community partnership to improve student progress through the creation of the Knightdale 100 (K100) community advocacy group. K100 educates community members through televised town hall meetings, a nationally-read blog, and Facebook page.
My colleagues and I were lucky enough to participate in several K100 events to recognize teachers who were making exceptional progress with their students, and converse with stakeholders about the constructive use of value-added and student projection data in WCPSS. Many of these teachers had never before been recognized for their academic successes in student progress, because they had been masked by low overall school achievement. For example, Knightdale High School has the lowest SAT scores in Wake County. However, they celebrate teachers and students because the SAT average is up 20 points, and their AP/Honors program is expanding.
K100 then gained the support from WCPSS to partner with SAS to develop a principal's training course to deepen understanding of how value-added school effectiveness data could best be used for school improvement. All Knightdale principals received this training, which included lessons in teaching Professional Learning Communities to use data to assess strengths and weaknesses in current practices, and create data-informed plans to improve progress for student groups that had not made sufficient progress in the past. It prepared school leaders to hone school improvement plans; target differentiation; longitudinally monitor student progress; and identify teacher-leaders in achievement sub-groups to better meet the needs of their students.
Principals participating in the professional learning expressed gratitude for the impact of the course on student outcomes, and the overall partnership of community, education, business, and local schools. Shannon Hardy, K100 organizer and parent, stated:
“Academic rigor is on the rise in Knightdale because of principals like Nancy Allen at East Wake Middle School. She and her math team have doubled their Algebra I membership two years in a row with 92%-plus passing! There are other heroes like Hodge Road Elementary faculty and its principal, Debra Pearce. Year after year their students have high growth. When 65% of the students are economically disadvantaged and 40% are limited English proficient, the starting line becomes a burden and the race to the top is a much longer journey.”
I hope that policy makers and education leaders can recognize this community partnership model as a shining example of a public, yet positive, use of value-added data for recognition, training, support, and overall school improvement efforts.