Valid Use of Value-Added in Our District


In the small rural school district that I direct, the use of a growth model, in combination with other indicators, is proving to be an effective way for measuring teacher effectiveness, projecting student learning and, most importantly, improving outcomes for students.

With only about 1,100 students, prekindergarten through 8th grade, in the Lexington district in rural west Tennessee, central-office administrators and principals are intimately involved in school-level instructional practices.

Joe T. WoodJoe Wood

We face the challenge of educating a higher percentage of at-risk students living in low and sometimes dire socioeconomic conditions. Should the schools they attend be judged on achievement as defined by end-of-year statewide standardized exams or by growth measures that show the academic progress of students over the course of a year?

This is a question debated by school districts everywhere.

Teacher Effects
The use of value-added data has a long history in Tennessee. Developed by William Sanders, a researcher at the University of Tennessee, value-added assessment became part of the Tennessee Educational Improvement Act of 1992 and remains in use across the state today.

Tennessee has one of the most comprehensive value-added databases in the country, with our state department of education highly involved and supportive. The Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System website  has a restricted site where the database can be accessed by any teacher in the state. It also contains individual student projections for high school end-of-course exams, as well as ACT projections for college-entrance requirements. Further, it enables customized reports for socioeconomic, race, gender and quintile performance levels.

The value-added assessment data are used to determine teacher effect, in which a three-year estimated mean gain forms the TVAAS Teacher Effect Report. The data in this report are used as one of the multiple sources of diagnostic information in the initial stage of the evaluation process to identify areas of strength and areas of focus for the purpose of creating individual professional development plans.

This information also may be used by educators to structure responses in the planning and evaluation component of the district’s model for gauging the effectiveness of the curriculum and instructional strategies.

A major focus of our system for the last two years is to more effectively use data to improve instruction. One of the first challenges was to dispel the myth that schools with high achievement scores could not obtain high value-added scores on Tennessee’s testing system. We also addressed misconceptions related to availability of data for all teachers and the fact the system does not adjust for socioeconomic factors.

We also are challenged by the increased rigor of our academic standards. In 2007, our state launched the Tennessee Diploma Project, joining 32 other states in the American Diploma Project, and embarked on an ambitious plan to raise standards with a new assessment beginning in spring 2010. The ACT projections provided by value-added data show a significant discrepancy between the proficient and advanced scores on the existing state assessment.

A statewide report on academic preparedness, released last spring, created a sense of urgency in our district to better prepare our K-8 students. Two indicators stood out. Only 34 percent of our 6th graders had at least a 50 percent chance of reaching an ACT math score of 22 or higher, with the statewide average being 27 percent. ACT research establishes cut-off scores for a 50/50 probability of a student earning an A or B at the average college or university in the country.

The other startling statistic was that only 2 percent of those same students were projected to have at least a 50 percent chance of reaching a score of 26 on math compared to the statewide average of 4 percent. A math ACT score of 26 is significant as it is the average score for Tennessee college graduates in the areas of math, science, engineering and technology.

Individualized Planning
Providing quality professional development on using value-added assessment has been a priority for our district. A few years ago we provided traditional one-day in-service and staff development days about TVAAS reporting and use of the website. One district goal for the 2009-10 school year is to address the college and workforce readiness challenge through expanded training options.

When federal stimulus funds became available, we contracted with Battelle for Kids, an Ohio-based firm, to provide on-line courses in value-added assessment. Battelle’s work complemented the existing training provided by the state education agency and allows our district to customize professional development.

This prescriptive work also became the foundation of the knowledge and skills component of our system’s recently adopted performance pay program with access to 28 online courses available in the area of value-added assessment. These courses can be individually assigned by administrators in alignment with the formal evaluation process or in building capacity for teachers in professional learning communities.

We also are implementing career planning in grades 6-8 with TVAAS projections being shared with parents in individual student meetings. The increased awareness of the ACT projections has supported the move to higher standards and is an integral part of our district- and school-level planning.

We realize test scores are one indicator of student learning, but these data have proven to be valid during the nine years we have been applying it in Lexington’s schools.

Joe Wood is superintendent of Lexington City Schools in Lexington, Tenn. E-mail: