There may be no topic more controversial in the world of education than value-added assessment—essentially judging and ranking teachers based on how well they can get students to improve their scores on standardized tests. Almost all of the discussion has centered around the question of whether or not it is appropriate to make test scores the determining factor in a teacher’s performance rating. But beyond the headlines and the lawsuits, there is an issue that has gone completely unaddressed. No one is asking how value-added assessments may affect the very students that this evaluation system is intended to help. By my count, there are at least ten separate ways in which value-added assessment either does not accurately measure the needs of a student or is actually harmful to a child’s education. Until these flaws are addressed, value-added assessment will be nothing more than a toy for politicians and headline writers, not a serious tool for improving learning.
1. The premise of value-added assessment is that standardized tests are an accurate and decisive measure of student learning. In fact, standardized testing is neither definitive nor especially reliable. City and state exams are snapshots, not in-depth diagnostic tools.
2. Value-added assessments will ultimately require all students to take standardized exams, whether or not such examinations are developmentally appropriate. Kindergarteners and first graders will be subjected to the same pressures of high-stakes testing as older children.
3. Value-added assessments will dramatically increase the number of standardized tests for each student. Children will need to take exams in subjects such art, music and physical education in order to evaluate the teachers of these subjects.
4. The most successful students will get less enrichment work and more test prep. It is actually more difficult to improve the scores of gifted students since they have already done so well on standardized exams.
5. Teachers will need to avoid necessary remediation in order to attain short-term gains in test scores. Most standardized English tests require students to demonstrate high-order thinking skills, yet a growing body of academic research indicates that many children—especially those growing up in poverty—require huge boosts of vocabulary to function well in school. Teachers may be forced to forego a vocabulary-rich curriculum that would have the most long-term benefits for their children. Instead, they will have to focus on the skills that might help students gain an extra point or two on this year’s tests.
6. Value-added assessments operate on the assumption that student test scores should improve from year to year based on abstract mathematical formulas. The targeted goals for each student will not reflect professional assessments of each child’s needs and abilities.
7. Learning is not necessarily a linear process. Students do not necessarily progress in predictable patterns. Many English Language Learners, for instance, require several years of language acquisition before they can make dramatic leaps in learning. Teachers may be judged “ineffective” because the results of their hard work may not show up in test scores until three or four years later.
8. Value-added assessments will discourage teachers from working with the most challenging classes. There is nothing more rewarding for a professional educator than helping struggling learners thrive in school. But teachers might be reluctant to work with these children if they risk losing their jobs over disappointing test scores.
9. Value-added assessments do not evaluate a teacher’s overall teaching—they measure how well teachers prepare children for tests. There is a difference.
10. A school where teachers are evaluated by value-added assessments will become nothing more than a testing factory. The rich and magical relationship between teacher and student will be reduced to one question: “What can you do to raise this kid’s test scores?” Value Added Assessment fails the most important test: it will create a school system that cannot meet the needs of its children.