ACT Also Finds but Discourages States’ Decreased Use of VAMs Post-ESSA

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Last June (2018), I released a blog post covering three key findings from a study that I along with two others conducted on states’ revised teacher evaluation systems post the passage of the federal government’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA; see the full study here). In short, we evidenced that (1) the role of growth or value-added models (VAMs) for teacher evaluation purposes is declining across states, (2) many states are embracing the increased local control afforded them via ESSA and no longer have one-size-fits-all teacher evaluation systems, and (3) the rhetoric surrounding teacher evaluation has changed (e.g., language about holding teachers accountable is increasingly less evident than language about teachers’ professional development and support).

Last week, a similar study was released by the ACT standardized testing company. As per the title of this report (see the full report here), they too found that there is a “Shrinking Use of Growth” across states’ “Teacher Evaluation Legislation since ESSA.” They also found that for some states there was a “complete removal” of the state’s teacher evaluation system (e.g., Maine, Washington), a postponement of the state’s teacher evaluation systems until further notice (e.g., Connecticut, Indiana, Tennessee) or a complete prohibition of the use of students’ standardized tests in any teachers’ evaluations moving forward (e.g., Connecticut, Idaho). Otherwise, as we also found, states are increasingly “allowing districts, rather than the state, to determine their evaluation frameworks” themselves.

Unlike in our study, however, ACT (perhaps not surprisingly as a standardized testing company that also advertises its tests’ value-added capacities; see, for example, here) cautions states against “the complete elimination of student growth as part of teacher evaluation systems” in that they have “clearly” (without citations in support) proven “their value and potential value.” Hence, ACT defines this as “a step backward.” In our aforementioned study and blog post we reviewed some of the actual evidence (with citations in support) and would, accordingly, contest all-day-long that these systems have a “clear” “proven” “value.” Hence, we (also perhaps not surprisingly) called our similar findings as “steps in the right direction.”

Regardless, in in all fairness, they recommend that states not “respond to the challenges of using growth
measures in evaluation systems by eliminating their use” but “first consider less drastic measures such as:

  • postponing the use of student growth for employment decisions while refinements to the system can be made;
  • carrying out special studies to better understand the growth model; and/or
  • reviewing evaluation requirements for teachers who teach in untested grades and subjects so that the measures used more accurately reflect their performance.

“Pursuing such refinements, rather than reversing efforts to make teacher evaluation more meaningful and reflective of performance, is the best first step toward improving states’ evaluation systems.”

Citation: Croft, M., Guffy, G., & Vitale, D. (2018). The shrinking use of growth: Teacher evaluation legislation since ESSA. Iowa City, IA: ACT. Retrieved from

2 thoughts on “ACT Also Finds but Discourages States’ Decreased Use of VAMs Post-ESSA

  1. Growth means an increase in test scores between two points in time. That meaning has been appropriated from productivity studies in business, with insufficient growth in earnings and/or output by individual workers, (or groups, or corporate units) duly noted and with consequences. Failing companies and failing schools are those unable to sustain growth and preferably at scale––nationally.

    The term growth as it has long be regarded in education has been stripped all of references to human growth with variable rates of development, e.g., a “tween” who is physically mature but socially awkward, brilliant in book learning, able to ace tests, is so-so as a musician, but of the herd in caring for others. Multiple attributes are discarded in today’s growth-centered metrics.
    There is another legacy idea about “growth,” that is as a progression through ages and stages (e.g., Piaget and others). That gestalt has shaped grade-level classrooms and the concept of being at, above, or below grade level. The gestalt includes a lot of assumptions about the virtues of meeting or exceeding typical performances of age or grade-mates.
    Sorry for the rant. I just wish for a more ample discussion of human growth and development beyond reductive metrics from standardized tests.

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