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APS Developing "Value Added" Measure of Student Achievement

Superintendent Erroll B. Davis Jr. in letter outlines method of evaluating academic progress

From Patch Reports

Editor's note: APS Superintendent Erroll B. Davis Jr. in a letter posted on the APS website last week outlined the new "value-added" measure of student academic achievement. Here is Davis' letter.

Dear APS students, parents, employees and supporters,

APS is developing a new, emerging measure associated with student academic achievement. It is called value-added. And it will place us in a better position to not only evaluate the academic progress of students, but also help assess how well we are helping students to achieve.
 
The reality associated with large urban school districts with high percentages of students who qualify for the federal free and reduced priced meals program is that we are often starting from a lower base level than more affluent areas. We are dealing with students who come to us at the kindergarten and 1st grade levels with little or no pre-school experience or academic preparation. Their vocabularies are often half that of what we see elsewhere. And, they have little or no experience in a classroom setting. All of these differences have to be addressed as we begin the learning process. With this in mind, is it fair to compare the academic achievement of these students with their wealthier suburban counterparts right off the bat? It most definitely is not.

Value-added is a quality measure of student academic achievement, because it quantifies incremental gains by taking into account student performance at the beginning of the school year and measures their academic growth over the course of a year. This is a different way of looking at student achievement. Up to now, achievement has been largely measured by the percentage of students who meet or exceed set academic standards for specific grade levels and those who don’t. This is how the state and federal governments measure student achievement on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) and National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests, respectively. And while these are appropriate and valuable measures, they fail to take into account the wide range of measurable achievement factors that should be considered — both to assess student progress and to evaluate our teaching processes.

An example of what I am talking about could be a theoretical measure of 800 on a CRCT exam as the minimum score a student must achieve to meet or achieve standards. A student who started the school year at 700 and by the end of the year had earned a score of 790 obviously experienced growth. But he or she would still have not have met or exceeded academic standards for that grade level. It is my position that this growth should be taken into account and recognized in some manner.

When you look at the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), a piece of legislation that ranks schools and school districts based on the achievement of a wide range of student categories, you will see that failing to measure up in one small area could brand a school and even an entire district a complete failure. Is that fair or even helpful? Or, is it even accurate? Some of the highest performing schools and systems in the country often fail to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) under this act. We have our answer to that question after a decade of living with NCLB, as the federal government is currently revising the legislation while granting waivers to states — including Georgia — to use other more realistic measures when it comes to evaluating student achievement.

I believe the incorporation of the value-added measure will help us obtain a more complete and thorough picture of individual student performance and growth; target professional learning and advancement opportunities for teachers; and develop more effective support strategies for students. The value-added concept is part of the Effective Teacher in Every Classroom (ETEC) initiative that will eventually result in having an even more effective teacher in every classroom in every school throughout the district.

Numerous studies clearly show that the presence of an effective teacher is the most important factor in escalating student academic achievement. Both the value-added measure and ETEC are taking us in the right direction in the area of education reform. While we have a long road ahead of us, the route to getting there is getting clearer.

Sincerely,
Superintendent Erroll B. Davis, Jr.

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