As first appeared in Education Week on April 7, 2010. Reprinted with permission from the author.
The Obama administration, through its Race to the Top initiative, is encouraging states to develop approaches for evaluating teachers that incorporate student-achievement results. This aspect of the program has been controversial, prompting some teachers’ unions to refuse to endorse state applications for competitive federal grants. However, a number of efforts to develop such indices of teacher effectiveness are under way, and the American Federation of Teachers’ president, Randi Weingarten, has publicly endorsed including student-achievement results along with other measures to evaluate teacher success. It is likely, then, that some form of teacher evaluation linked to student achievement will play a significant role in a number of upcoming policy initiatives. It is therefore critical, in order to ensure fairness to teachers, that any plans to reward or punish them for gains their students have or have not made control for differences among students in their family situations and other factors that are beyond the teachers’ control. The best method for ensuring that evaluation includes such controls is called the value-added approach.
Recently, the National Research Council and the National Academy of Education jointly issued a report on value-added approaches, based on findings from a November 2008 workshop funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and co-sponsored by the NRC and the NAEd. The report’s goal was to provide policymakers with an improved understanding of the potential role of value-added methodologies, given their known strengths and weaknesses, so that officials could then better decide whether (and how) to implement them in their jurisdictions.