Thomas R. Hoerr
Values Worth Adding
There is a great deal of talk these days about using a value-added approach to look at students’ progress. Instead of just
determining whether a student is performing at
grade level, why not measure the student against
his or her previous performance? Then, in turn,
let’s evaluate teachers according to whether students have made progress. The thinking is that
exceptional teachers are those whose students
show the greatest gains.
It’s hard to argue against charting
student progress, but when it comes
to the value-added approach, there
does seem to be a lot of arguing
going on. In this case, the debate
centers on teacher performance and
accountability. Should we applaud
more for the teacher whose high-
flying students achieve above grade
level, as they did last year and
the year before, or for the teacher
whose students still aren’t at grade
level but who made more progress
than in previous years? Those
are thorny questions that touch
on issues related to measurement, the role of
teachers, the place of schools, and the nature of
the profession. And no, I am not going to try to
address those issues here.
What I am going to do is say that we should
consider applying something like this value-added approach to teacher growth. Why
shouldn’t we use information from a teacher’s
professional history to set goals and create
expectations? However good Ms. Pita was last
year, don’t we want her to be better this year and
to improve even more next year?
Before you spill your coffee, note that I am not
suggesting that we define a teacher’s history by
students’ test scores alone (although test scores
should be part of the formula). When we look at
a teacher’s history, we need to consider all of the
factors that relate to teacher effectiveness.
What about a teacher’s ability to create
enthusiasm for learning, for example? How
about a teacher’s commitment to collegiality?
And shouldn’t we value a teacher’s efforts to
work with students’ parents? Regardless of how
good our teachers are in each of these areas,
we want them to improve; moreover, they
need to improve. What was good yesterday will
not be adequate tomorrow. Principals need to
create situations in which every teacher grows.
And how can we determine progress without
Too often, educators get sidetracked by
focusing only on grades, grade-level equivalents,
and percentiles. Those are all valid measures,
I want to know how
good we are today so
that in the future I can
look back and see how
we have improved.
but they’re not the only ways to gauge growth.
Part of the reason that our society gives so much
attention to test scores is that we are so bad at
measuring other, more amorphous qualities.
That’s our fault. If enthusiasm for learning is
important—and we know it is—we ought to
be able to measure it. How might we do that?
Certainly not with a multiple-choice enthusiasm
test! Instead, we might examine students’ reflections in logs or journals or use rubrics to capture
evidence of joyful learning. Or we might even
ask students to create a play, song, or piece of
art that shows how they feel about learning and
We could take a similar approach to measuring growth in faculty collegiality or working
with parents. How all of these qualities are
measured would vary by school and educational
context. Indeed, convening a faculty committee
to talk about how “joyful learning,” for example,