Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Evaluating Special Educator Effectiveness: Addressing Issues Inherent to Value-Added Modeling

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Evaluating Special Educator Effectiveness: Addressing Issues Inherent to Value-Added Modeling

Article excerpt

Current policy and research trends focus on state student achievement scores as one measure, or even as the predominant measure, of teacher effectiveness using value-added modeling (VAM; Goe, Bell, & Little, 2008). All states receiving No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers are required to implement teacher evaluation methods that use student achievement growth as a "significant factor" (U.S. Department of Education [ED], 2012, p. 19), and these states are required to include special education personnel in these evaluations. Although multiple methods for teacher professional practice evaluation are suggested (i.e., observations, portfolios, surveys), the guidance is clear that student growth must compose a large proportion of the evaluation and that these evaluations must be used in personnel decision making.


By modeling student progress over time, VAM provides a quantitative measure of student learning that can supposedly be directly attributed to the professional efforts of individual educators and schools (Sanders, 2000). Yet, many researchers have noted concerns over the use of VAM in education (e.g., Amrein-Beardsley, 2008; Braun, 2005; Buzick & Laitusis, 2010; Kupermintz, 2003).

Part of the complexity of using standardized test scores for teacher evaluation can be attributed to the fact that a measure of one construct--student achievement--is being used to assess another construct--teacher effectiveness. Great effort is often invested in ensuring that scores from standardized tests show evidence of reliability and validity for measuring student achievement; however, use of these scores to measure teacher effectiveness represents a major shift. Whereas the scores from standardized tests are meant to reflect a students level of achievement directly, the same scores are at best only an indirect measure of a teachers effectiveness. The fact that scores from a standardized assessment demonstrate adequate evidence for test validity and reliability does not necessarily imply that using those scores to create value-added scores for teachers is appropriate. Instead, the teacher effectiveness scores based on student achievement tests must undergo the same level of rigorous inspection as the student achievement scores before similar statements regarding the reliability and validity of these scores can be made.

The fact that a standardized test may produce highly reliable scores does not mean that the VAM scores for teachers will be similarly low in measurement error. On the contrary, there is considerable evidence showing that VAM scores can change dramatically from one year to the next (McCaffrey, Sass, Lockwood, & Mihaly, 2009); from one assessment of a construct to a similar assessment of the same construct (Papay, 2011); and even from one subtest of an assessment to another subtest of the same assessment (Lockwood et al. 2007).

The use of VAM to measure special educator teacher effectiveness, however, is doubly troublesome and presents unique challenges that may further threaten the utility and accuracy of VAM teacher estimates. This article examines several of these issues relevant to the use of VAM to evaluate the effectiveness of special education teachers. We address these issues in four parts. First, we examine current state-level assessment practices for students receiving special education services. Second, we examine the potential problems that arise from the misfit between assessments used and the particular abilities and limitations of students in special education. Third, we examine how the services provided by special educators and the diverse roles they fill can complicate the interpretation of value-added effects. Finally, we address a number of issues specific to VAM that may differentially impact special education teachers.


In 2004, ED provided guidance to state departments of education regarding the design and implementation of statewide assessment systems. …

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