Who “Added Value” to My Son’s Learning and Achievement?

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‘Tis the beginning of the holiday break and the end of the second semester of my son’s 5th grade year. This past Friday morning, after breakfast and before my son’s last day of school, he explained to me how his B grades in reading and language arts from his first grading period in 5th grade had now moved up to two A scores in both subject areas.

When I asked him why he thought he dramatically improved both scores, he explained how he and his friends really wanted to become “Millionaires” as per their Accelerated Reading (AR) program word count goals. He thought this helped him improve his reading and language arts homework/test/benchmark scores (i.e., peer effects). He also explained how he thought that my husband and I requesting that he read every night and every morning before school also helped him become a better reader (surprise!) and increase his homework/test/benchmark scores (i.e., parental effects). And he explained how my helping him understand his tests/benchmarks, how to take them, how to focus, and how to (in my terms) analyze and exclude the “distractor” items (i.e., the items that are often times “right,” but not as “right” as the best and most correct response options, yet that are purposefully placed on multiple choice tests to literally “distract” test-takers from the correct answers) also helped his overall performance (i.e., the effects of having educated/professional parent(s)).

So, who “added value” to my son’s learning and achievement? Therein lies the rub. Will the complicated statistics used to capture my son’s teacher’s value-added this year take all of this into consideration, or better yet, control for it and factor it out? Will controlling for my son’s 4th grade scores (and other demographic variables as available) help to control for and counter for that which happens in our home? I highly doubt it (with research evidence in support).

Complicating things further, my son’s 4th grade teacher last year liked my son, but also knowing that I am a professor in a college of education, was sure to place my son in arguably “the best” 5th grade teacher’s class this year. His teacher is indeed, wonderful, and not surprisingly a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT), but being a professor gave my son a distinct advantage…and perhaps gave his current teacher a “value-added” advantage as well.

Herein lies another rub. Who else besides my son was non-randomly placed into this classroom with this 5th grade teacher? And what other “external effects” might other parents of other students in this class be having on their own children’s learning and achievement, outside of school, similar to those explained by my son Friday morning? Can this too be taken into consideration, or better yet, controlled for and factored out? I highly doubt it, again.

And what will the implications for this teacher be when it comes time to measure her value-added? Lucky her, she will likely get the kudos and perhaps the monetary bonus she truly deserves, thanks in large part, though, to so many things that were indeed, and continue to be, outside of her control as a teacher…things she did not, even being a phenomenal teacher, cause or have a causal impact on. Yet another uncontrollable consideration that must be considered.

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