I suspect when most people hear the phrase value-added analysis their initial reaction is to tune out whatever follows. Some have no interest in hearing a complicated methodological explanation of how value-added analyses are conduced, and others dismiss the method as a tool for those seeking to attack public school teachers.
In reality, the concept of value-added is both simple and non-threatening. The base premise is that there are numerous factors that predict the test scores of a child. Most obvious are the quality of a school, teacher, and curriculum. Perhaps slightly less obvious are parental involvement, demographics, and prior achievement.
Value-added analysis isolates the impact of things a school can control from the things a school cannot. In simpler terms, it shows the impact a school and/or teacher has on student test score growth. Once this impact is known, school and classroom leaders can make more informed instruction and personnel decisions.
Value-added is not perfect, but it is a huge upgrade over raw test scores that do not account for prior achievement or factors over which schools have little control. In WPRI’s latest report, Sarah Archibald and myself make several recommendations designed to get the most out of value-added analyses of test scores already being conducted by Wisconsin’s Value Added Research Center:
1) As DPI appears ready to do, include value-added data on the state’s student information system so that is readily available to a wide-audience.
2) Ensure that all Wisconsin principals and teachers receive value-added data on their schools and classrooms.
3) Provide training on the use of value-added data to all school districts.
4) Include all publicly funded pupils, including those using vouchers, in a statewide value-added system.
We also review the history of Wisconsin state testing and make a simple recommendation: Wisconsin needs to stop the constant switching of state tests and testing practices. Whatever the particular weaknesses of a standardized test, frequently changing it undermines the potential for long-term analyses such as value-added.
Bottom line, a standardized test is only as good as how it is used. As Wisconsin moves forward with new assessment policies, it is essential that focus remains on getting the best information from those policies, and putting it in the hands of those that can best use it to raise student achievement levels.