To the Editor:
I attended the conference of the National Center on Performance Incentives in Nashville, Tenn., this month, and was thus surprised that your report on findings presented there concerning the Teacher Advancement Program did not include significant cautions the authors of the TAP study shared during their presentation (March 5, 2008).
We have been implementing TAP in the Eagle County school district in Eagle, Colo., for the past six years, in one of the few TAP states that use data from the Northwest Evaluation Association’s growth-research database, the data the study examined. Given the years investigated, it appears that our three high schools were the only ones used for secondary-school analyses in this research. TAP’s reputation as one of the nation’s leading systemic reforms adopted across schools of all socioeconomic levels makes it important that your readers understand the research’s limitations.
The study’s small sample size and limited student-achievement data make the findings similarly limited. Even Dale Ballou, the associate director of the National Center on Performance Incentives and one of the study’s authors, cautioned that given the small sample size of the high schools, the findings cannot be generalized and the results are preliminary—at best. Also, it is impossible to make a strong conclusion of a program’s impact just by using one low-stakes assessment.
In my capacity as director of secondary instruction for my district, I have seen very positive outcomes from TAP, such as improved ACT scores, better instructional strategies, and increased teacher collaboration, all of which weren’t highlighted in the study. As always, improving student achievement is a work in progress, but our schools are better with TAP as our guide.
We all know that successful schools are based on many factors. To draw conclusive findings on such limited data does a disservice to TAP secondary schools that are continuing to make progress, and to those that have been encouraged to give this comprehensive school reform a try.
Director of Secondary Education
Eagle County School District
A version of this article appeared in the March 26, 2008 edition of Education Week as Use Caution in Assessing Research Findings on TAP