OUR VIEW: Time for new measure of educational success


If the real object of student testing is to determine how much a student is learning, it makes more sense to test students against their own progress from year to year rather than against norms from other localities and schools. The test would stay the same its just a difference in philosophy and emphasis. Testing against national norms is a one size fits all approach: by this measure, all students in each grade are expected to attain a certain level of knowledge by a particular point in time. Students in wealthy, more homogenous school districts should consistently outperform students from poorer districts with large percentages of students for whom English is a second language.
Assessing students against their own progress, called value added testing, measures how much each individual student has learned in a particular school from one year to the next. It is a more effective way of measuring student progress and teacher effectiveness. It also is a fairer way to judge the relative performance of school districts.
Currently, Virginia requires all school districts to use the Adequate Yearly Progress test to measure performance in the federal No Child Left Behind program against national norms. It is encouraging the Commonwealths board of education, of which Alexandria City Councilman Rob Krupicka is a member, is considering measuring progress in an individual way. 
In education reform, as with welfare reform and other significant programmatic upgrades, it takes years of trial and error for the best model to emerge. In Washington, schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee has created many enemies, but also improved student performance by boldly tackling the issue of underperforming teachers. It is true that many factors make a good teacher. But the bottom line in education is learning. Having a tool to specifically measure how a given teachers students have performed in his or her classroom could be an important part of measuring teacher effectiveness.   
Though a new testing approach is probably needed, this does not absolve the Alexandria City Public School system for yet again failing to meet NCLB standards. Reasons ranging from economic status to language barriers of students can be cited for the ACPS failure to meet the NCLB standards, yet one only has to look to neighboring Fairfax County to see a system facing similar challenges meeting the yearly standards. Fairfax County Public Schools received accreditation in 2010. 
Still, an approach that measures yearly progress would surely help school systems like Alexandrias get a better handle on student and teacher progress. It would provide a concrete measuring stick by which to reward excellent teachers and weed out those who consistently underperform.
Many approaches to improve teacher and student performance have surfaced in recent years. Value -added assessments seem to be one of the better concepts to emerge.  

The time has come to embrace the idea.