GOOD

Is Value-added Teacher Data Flawed?

Amidst the imbroglio kicked up by The Los Angeles Times series of articles on teacher effectiveness data comes the findings of a research paper authored by several prominent education experts and published by the non-partisan Economics Policy Institute. Its finding: It would be "unwise" to consider student improvement (or slides) in standardized tests as up to 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation, as some states are proposing to do.

Louisiana, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C., are weighting value-added data up to 50 percent. Other states, however, are not looking to depend that heavily on the controversial assessment. In response to the Times article, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Ramon Cortines is shooting to use value-added assessments for 30 percent of a teacher's grade. A pilot program galvanized by The Gates Foundation in Tampa weights value-added data at 40 percent.


Maureen Downey over at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Get Schooled blog was among the first to point out the study questioning the emphasis of so-called "value-added data." Whereas, the study suggests that scores be limited to a small component of overall evaluations, Downey rightly notes that the idealized regimen these researchers suggest—which includes "observations or videotapes of classroom practice, teacher interviews, and artifacts such as lesson plans, assignments, and samples of student work"—is, frankly, financially unfeasible.

Over at The Washington Post's Answer Sheet blog, Valerie Strauss asks of EPI study coauthor and Duke University economist Helen Ladd: Why use standardized test data at all?

Ladd's response:

Test scores are unreliable, but they are still more often right than wrong, but not sufficiently more often to justify making high-stakes decisions on the basis of test scores alone. But giving test scores too much weight in a balanced evaluation system runs the additional danger of creating incentives to narrow the curriculum, as we described in the paper. If they are not given too much weight, this danger is lessened. How much weight they should be given should be a matter of local experimentation and judgment. All we say in the paper is that giving them 50 percent of the weight is too much.

\n

In addition to being "more often right than wrong," the scores are also essentially the sole objective component of teacher assessments. Thus, they certainly deserve some weight—though they shouldn't be the sole basis for personnel decisions.

And the place where that especially true is in L.A. As Slate's Jack Shafer writes, the L.A. Times was absolutely in the right publishing the data, as it's in the public domain and is the right of the people to see. It could, however, lead engaged parents to pull their kids from the classrooms of teachers who score badly, causing further non-randomization in the sort of students each teacher is assigned and possibly skewing future data: Poorer performing teachers will likely end up with poorer performing students (or at least students whose parents didn't make a decision about their child's schooling according to this data set).

That's why I'd side with Green Dot Public Schools CEO Marco Petruzzi, who wrote in response to the Times data dump:

I'm open to publicly grading schools, and I'm also in favor of transparency within a school community, where you can set the data within the right context. I'm uncomfortable, however, with publishing a narrow data point with a person's name attached to it for public consumption without the proper context.

\n

The data is valuable. But, it's best utilized by administrators and the teachers themselves, who can then work to better their staffs or steer members of them out of the profession, if need be.

Photo via Houston Independent School District.

Articles
via Douglas Muth / Flickr

Sin City is doing something good for its less fortunate citizens as well as those who've broken the law this month. The city of Las Vegas, Nevada will drop any parking ticket fines for those who make a donation to a local food bank.

A parking ticket can cost up to $100 in Las Vegas but the whole thing can be forgiven by bringing in non-perishable food items of equal or greater value to the Parking Services Offices at 500 S. Main Street through December 16.

The program is designed to help the less fortunate during the holidays.

Keep Reading Show less
Communities

For more than 20 years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has served the citizens of Maine in the U.S. Senate. For most of that time, she has enjoyed a hard-fought reputation as a moderate Republican who methodically builds bridges and consensus in an era of political polarization. To millions of political observers, she exemplified the best of post-partisan leadership, finding a "third way" through the static of ideological tribalism.

However, all of that has changed since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in Maine, particularly those who lean left, have run out of patience with Collins and her seeming refusal to stand up to Trump. That frustration peaked with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
via Truthout.org / Flickr and Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign looks to be getting a huge big shot in the arm after it's faced some difficulties over the past few weeks.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading voice in the Democratic parties progressive, Democratic Socialist wing, is expected to endorse Sanders' campaign at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens, New York this Saturday.

Fellow member of "the Squad," Ilhan Omar, endorsed him on Wednesday.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
Photo by HAL9001 on Unsplash

The U.K. is trying to reach its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, but aviation may become the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.K. by that same year. A new study commissioned by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and conducted at the Imperial College London says that in order for the U.K. to reach its target, aviation can only see a 25% increase, and they've got a very specific recommendation on how to fix it: Curb frequent flyer programs.

Currently, air travel accounts for 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, however that number is projected to increase for several reasons. There's a growing demand for air travel, yet it's harder to decarbonize aviation. Electric cars are becoming more common. Electric planes, not so much. If things keep on going the way they are, flights in the U.K. should increase by 50%.

Nearly every airline in the world has a frequent flyer program. The programs offer perks, including free flights, if customers get a certain amount of points. According to the study, 70% of all flights from the U.K. are taken by 15% of the population, with many people taking additional (and arguably unnecessary) flights to "maintain their privileged traveler status."

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet