Value-added reporting shows the way to educational success

Look beyond measures of student achievement to find out what you really need to know

By Katrina Miller, State and Local Government Industry Consultant, SAS

How do you know if a curriculum modification is working?
Are teachers being assigned the type of students they are best suited to help?
Are students on track to meet their educational goals?
With influential factors equalized, is the school performing as it should?
If not, why not, and what adjustments should be made to programs, practices and policies?

Trying to answer those questions based on a snapshot of standardized test results could be misleading or incomplete, because test scores don’t account for where students started or the challenges they face during the school year. Savvy educators are adopting a more comprehensive approach: value-added reporting.

Instead of seeing how many of a teacher’s students pass or fail state tests – or how their scores compare with other students – they examine how much students have grown during the year and across years. Student growth models and value-added reporting reflect a shift from a focus on student achievement at a point in time to a view of students’ academic progress, whatever their entering achievement level or background.

A comprehensive view of student learning includes two parts – reflective and proactive reports:

  • Reflective student growth and diagnostic reports assess the effectiveness of previous instruction, curriculum, programs and other academic supports.
  • Proactive reports predict how a student will likely perform in the future, so you can proactively plan interventions and enrichment opportunities.

Ideally, these two parts work as a continuous feedback loop.

The practical goal of value-added reporting is to assess how much students grew and whether that growth is enough to reach a certain goal, such as proficiency or college readiness.

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Diagnostic reports offer detailed guidance on how to improve students’ academic experiences or expand practices that have proven effective elsewhere.

For example, a bar graph could show growth levels for different groups of students, such as low-, average- and high-achieving students. The results show whether the teacher, school or district is achieving expected gains for all types of students or “teaching to the middle” while under-serving the students at either end of the spectrum – the lowest achievers and the most gifted students. A clear visualization suggests ways to meet all students’ needs and close the achievement gap.

“Looking at patterns and trends in the district and school diagnostic reports helped my instructional coaches and me work together to place teachers with students where data shows they are more effective,” said one assistant principal. “This has helped us improve the academic growth of all our students.”

Teachers shouldn’t be held accountable for what they cannot control, such as the readiness of students when they enter their classrooms. With value-added reporting, teachers are not rated based on one year’s worth of data, nor are they penalized if their classes include many children who arrive working below grade level. Value-added reporting measures students’ growth from year to year. Growth data from all students over multiple years is pulled into the teacher’s effectiveness rating.

Student-level projections offer a reliable probability of success to a certain benchmark, such as proficiency on the next grade’s state-mandated assessment in a subject or a particular score on college readiness exams. The results help administrators refine teaching assignments and help teachers refine their approaches. For example, a teacher who has been very successful with high-achieving students might teach an honors course.

“Having student projections for my course and for other college readiness indicators helps me tailor my instruction accordingly,” said a former state Teacher of the Year. “I can put interventions in place much sooner, and then I can see if the student is on the right track to achieving his/her academic goals.”

District and school comparisons help administrators and policy makers understand how educators are performing based on the students they serve – with all other factors being equal (or normalized). For example, if a high-achieving school did not make the expected growth, educators can see from scatter plots other high-achieving schools that did make the expected growth. They can then adopt best practices from these schools.

Learn how to conquer education data complexity

Statistical complexity made easy

The computations behind all of this require advanced analytics – millions of calculations using statistical techniques that have been applied in other industries, such as multivariate response models, analysis of covariance regression models and quantile regression models (student growth percentiles).


Fortunately, teachers and administrators don’t have to be statistical gurus to work with the reporting system and get value from the results. A solid value-added reporting system takes advantage of the navigation tools and interface conventions that make online applications easy to use.  For example:

  • Information can be displayed side by side in multiple views – graphically and in a chart. The graph provides an at-a-glance view, while the chart provides the numbers behind the visualization.
  • Color coding makes the educational implications of the statistics intuitive with a quick look – such as green for good progress, orange for cautionary status and red for trouble spots.
  • Rollover text (a short explanation that pops up when moving the cursor over an element) and an embedded Help system can guide users, perhaps with built-in video tutorials.
  • Interactive systems let users customize queries and focus on specific areas of interest, essentially creating custom reports without having to do any programming.

A tool for education professionals at all levels

K-12 schools are increasingly adopting web-based, interactive reporting systems that include reflective, diagnostic and predictive tools for teacher and school improvement. Educators can drill into results and trends across multiple years based on various student characteristics and achievement levels – by student, teacher, school or district.

With value-added reporting:

  • Teachers can measure student progress objectively and accurately to improve instruction.
  • Principals can strategically plan equitable learning opportunities.
  • Superintendents have a system for providing fair evaluation of and support for teachers and principals.
  • Policy makers have rigorous longitudinal analysis of student performance to guide better decisions.

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