"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The National Research Council Waves Duncan Off RTT Plan for Teacher Evaluation

If there is opinion that is representative of the best that science has to offer policy makers, it is from the National Academies. In a press release today that coincides with a new report that evaluates strategies proposed by the corporate oligarchs in charge at the U.S. Department of Education, the authors conclude that value-added assessment is not appropriate for high stakes decisions such as teacher pay. Also, the NRC report warned against using NAEP data to assess teacher or school effectiveness:
Date: Oct. 7, 2009

Contacts: Sara Frueh, Media Relations Officer

Alison Burnette, Media Relations Assistant

Office of News and Public Information

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Education Innovations Funded by 'Race to the Top' Should Be Rigorously Evaluated; Value-Added Methods to Assess Teachers Not Ready for Use in High-Stakes Decisions

WASHINGTON -- The Race to the Top initiative -- a $4.35 billion grant program included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to encourage state-level education reforms -- should require rigorous evaluations of the reform efforts it funds, says a new report from the National Research Council. The initiative should support research based on data that links student test scores with their teachers, but should not prematurely promote the use of value-added approaches -- which evaluate teachers based on gains in their students' performance -- to reward or punish teachers. Too little is known about the accuracy of these methods to base high-stakes decisions on them right now, the report says.

The U.S. Department of Education is developing regulations that explain how the $4.35 billion will be awarded. The National Research Council's report offers recommendations to help the department revise these guidelines.

The report strongly supports rigorous evaluations of programs funded by the Race to the Top initiative. Only with careful evaluations -- which allow effective reforms to be identified and perhaps used elsewhere -- can the initiative have a lasting impact. Without them, any benefits of this one-time expenditure on innovation are likely to end when the funding ends, the report says.

Evaluations must be appropriate to the specific program being assessed and will be easier to design if grantees provide a "theory of action" for any proposed reform -- a logical chain of reasoning explaining how the innovation will lead to improved student learning. Evaluations should be designed before programs begin so baseline data can be collected; they should also provide short-term feedback to aid midcourse adjustments and long-term data to judge the program's impact. While standardized tests are helpful in measuring a reform's effects, evaluations should rely on multiple indicators of what students know and can do, not just a single test score, the report adds.

The Department of Education's proposed guidelines encourage states to create systems that link data on student achievement to teachers. The report applauds this step, arguing that linking this data is essential to conducting research about the best ways to evaluate teachers.

One way of evaluating teachers, currently the subject of intense interest and research, are value-added approaches, which typically compare a student's scores going into a grade with his or her scores coming out of it, in order to assess how much "value" a year with a particular teacher added to the student's educational experience. The report expresses concern that the department's proposed regulations place excessive emphasis on value-added approaches. Too little research has been done on these methods' validity to base high-stakes decisions about teachers on them. A student's scores may be affected by many factors other than a teacher -- his or her motivation, for example, or the amount of parental support -- and value-added techniques have not yet found a good way to account for these other elements.

The report also cautions against using the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federal assessment that helps measure overall U.S. progress in education, to evaluate programs funded by the Race to the Top initiative. NAEP surveys the knowledge of students across the nation in three grades with respect to a broad range of content and skills and is not aligned with the curriculum of any particular state. Although effective at monitoring broad trends, it is not designed to detect the specific effects of targeted interventions like those to be funded by Race to the Top.

The study was sponsored by the National Research Council. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter. The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. A committee roster follows.

Copies of Letter Report to the U.S. Department of Education on the Race to the Top Fund are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).

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