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National Research Council Issues Caution on Value-Added Assessment

The Board on Testing and Assessment of the National Research Council released a report on the Race to the Top (RTTP) Fund.  (Letter Report to the U.S. Department of Education on the Race to the Top Fund released on Oct. 7, 2009.)  The report was undertaken as a result of concerns with testing-related elements in the the department’s proposed Regulations for use of RTTP funds.

Of significance to all educators should be the cautions the Council issued regarding the premature use of so-called “value-added methods” in making high stakes decisions about teacher performance, particularly through the evaluation process. They confirm the well-known, but often ignored, fact that there is simply too little evidence at this point to support the validity of these methodologies.

While the Council supports the further development of data collecting systems that can link students and their teachers, they see this “as essential for conducting research related to the full range of potential approaches for evaluating educators and for developing pilot programs for evaluation approaches that will one day become operational.”  They expressed concerns that the departments proposal “places too much emphasis on measures of growth in student achievement (1) that have not yet been adequately studied for the purposes of evaluating teachers and principals and (2) that face substantial practical barriers to being successfully deployed in an operational personnel system that is fair, reliable, and valid.”

This 13 page “letter” is a valuable summary of key issues and principals related to testing and assessment that may easily be lost in the entrepreneurial fervor of doling out $4.3 billion in Race to the Top Funds. Notions such as the use of multiple indicators, the appropriate use and limitations of NAEP results,  and the distinction between high stakes standardized tests and formative tests used to drive instruction are significant issues that will need to be addressed in the reauthorization of ESEA. I would strongly recommend giving this brief report a read.  It is available in PDF form for free.

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