To the Editor:
The Commentary by Douglas Harris (“Economists and the Value-Added Wave in Schools,” Jan. 26, 2011), in which he discusses a divide between economists and education scholars over the merits of value-added analysis, was thought-provoking and largely well-reasoned. But his assertion that “there is almost no evidence to suggest that any use of value-added does or does not improve teaching and learning” demands further scrutiny.
Value-added analysis is not a magic bullet that alone will transform America’s education system. However, there is considerable evidence that value-added, when combined with multiple measures over time, can help guide instructional decisions, personalize professional development for educators, and elevate student achievement.
In 2007, when the Washington Court House, Ohio, city school system joined Battelle for Kids’ Ohio Value-Added High Schools—an initiative that builds educators’ capacity to use value-added information to accelerate student progress—the district ranked 594th out of 610 Ohio school districts. Today, the district is among the top 10 percent of school districts in the state in academic progress based on statewide value-added data. One district official said recently, “Teachers are really starting to believe that they can make a difference.”
Since the Houston school district began using value-added as part of its ASPIRE educational improvement and performance-management model in 2007, the number of Houston schools rated “recognized and exemplary” by the Texas Education Agency has jumped, from 84 in 2007 to 206 in 2010.
Educators in Hamilton County, Tenn., with support from the Benwood Initiative, have been using value-added for years to identify strengths and collaborate with colleagues to address challenges. These efforts have helped turn around 16 of the region’s chronically low-performing elementary schools.
No single measure can tell the whole story, and neither does suggesting that there is little evidence showing that value-added has a positive impact on teaching and learning. As we have seen in these districts and others, value-added, in combination with other measures and professional development to support its appropriate uses for educational improvement, offers powerful diagnostic information to personalize learning and ensure that we prepare all students for success in college, their careers, and life.
Battelle for Kids
A version of this article appeared in the March 16, 2011 edition of Education Week as Value-Added Can Help Guide Schools