New Approach Evaluates Schools by Leveling the Playing Field

MacIver News Service | February 7, 2014

by Haley Sinklair

A different approach to evaluating a school’s performance with student test scores has leveled the playing field for high and low poverty schools. By accounting for the socioeconomic status (SES) and other factors, educators and policymakers can better compare their progress relative to other schools in similar circumstances.

New research released this week accounts for poverty differences in evaluating student progress in schools. The new approach uses a value-added technique with two steps, rather than the one-step value-added model commonly used. The first step adjusts for differences in previous test scores and demographic features of the students for each school. The second step uses the adjusted test scores to construct a growth measure for each school.

The study measured growth in mathematics from 2007 to 2011 for 1,846 Missouri schools serving fourth through eighth grades. Using the new approach, it was discovered that high- and low-poverty schools are evenly represented throughout the school rankings. This approach allows for a more fair comparison of schools and shows there are still sizable differences in growth between schools with similar socioeconomic status.

The two-step value added approach has three advantages according to the research:

  • All educators are encouraged to work hard, since they are not compared to educators in very different settings.
  • Instructional strategies, curricula, personnel policies, and day-to-day decisions that proved successful in high-poverty schools can be identified and used in other, less-effective high-poverty schools.
  • The ability of high-poverty schools to recruit and retain teachers will not be diminished.

In analyzing school performance rates, this two-step value added model can create a more thorough report for educators and decision makers on what methods are and are not working for schools of similar circumstance. The report still encourages the release of test-score levels that show low-income schools poor performance overall, but provides a new way to help educators determine what methods work best to improve students’ performance.