wasting bandwidth since 1999

Not Much Value Added

Preliminary results from a “$45 million study of teacher effectiveness” finds that “growth in annual student test scores is a reliable sign of a good teacher”.

The central finding indicates that teachers with “value-added” ratings are able to replicate that feat in multiple classrooms and in multiple years.

Other findings suggest that teachers with high “value-added” ratings are able to help students understand math concepts or demonstrate reading comprehension through writing.

The final report isn’t due for about a year but this small glimpse offers two major reasons to seriously question the research.

One, is that the study was paid for by the Gates Foundation, “a prominent advocate of data-driven analysis”.

And two, the study rests on a foundation of state standardized tests that produce an extremely narrow view of student learning.

Which would be fine if we want kids who read at a minimal level and are adept at performing basic arithmetic algorithms.


  1. Mark

    Before you make fun of those goals, getting kids to read at a functional level and to be adept at performing basic arithmetic algorithms are two extremely crucial skills. Perhaps more important than any other goals I can think of at the moment…

  2. Jenny

    I would suggest that reading at a functional level is an awfully low bar to set and performing basic arithmetic algorithms doesn’t make for much of a life skill. I want my kids to be able to think and solve problems. They need some of these basic skills to do so, but they need so much more. We’re only giving them these basic skills. That is going to hurt us in the long run.

  3. Tim

    Mark: I’m not making fun of those goals. They are totally absurd by themselves.

    However, since most public schools are totally obsessed with standardized testing, the minimum skill level represented on them becomes the curriculum. As a result, most elementary schools in our overly-large district teach reading, math, some science (mostly memorizing facts), and little else. Many students never have the opportunity to work on higher level skills, much less music, art, drama and the other “extras”.

    I disagree that reading and doing math at a basic level are more important than any other goal. I maintain that we can teach basic skills at the same time we teach communication, creativity, and problem solving skills. Our most important goal is to help kids think and learn for themselves.

  4. Paul R

    I wonder about the arguments that standardized testing only represents a “minimum skill level.” For example, as a high school English teacher in Delaware, the new core standards push students from the minimum of identification of literary devices to the higher level understanding of how and why author’s use such literary devices.

    It may have been that state standards were just the minimum before, but my experience is that the tests seem to be getting more rigorous and ambitious with these national standards.

  5. Tim

    Paul: since most of my work over the past seven years has been in the elementary schools, I only have a passing familiarity with testing in the high schools. If they are doing a better job of assessing higher level thinking skills, then that is some progress.

    However, the emphasis at the elementary level is still very much on teaching and testing basic skills, at least in our district. Which means our middle and high school teachers have an even harder job to help kids who have suffered through that system for six or seven years fill in the background knowledge they were never exposed to.

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