Goal Setting

Value-added measures provide valuable information to teachers and administrators. However, they are inherently limited by their “backward-looking” focus, in the sense that they describe growth in student performance that has already occurred.

On-the-ground educators need both backward and forward looking analytics to inform their practice. To meet that need, researchers at the Value-Added Research Center have developed goal-setting measures that provide this forward-looking information.

These measures, provided at the beginning of a school year, give an estimate of how much growth a school might expect based on the type of students it has and how much growth similar students have made in the past. These estimates can be used to create challenging, yet appropriate goals for teachers to work towards throughout the year. Goal setting is particularly useful when information from benchmark assessments that are administered district-wide at multiple points during the year (e.g., fall, winter, and spring) is available.

The basic process for creating these goals is as follows:

  1. Calculate value-added estimates for the prior school year. So, if we want goals for the 2013-14 school year, we must calculate value-added estimates for the 2012-13 school year. The value-added models produce two pieces of key information:
    1. A set of coefficients for students’ pretests scores and demographic variables; that is, the effect of these difference factors on post-test scores.
    2. A distribution of school and grade-level value added that can be used to determine the ranges of various targets consistent with the actual variation in school performance.
  2. The coefficients are cross-multiplied with student-level data from, in this example, fall of 2013, to derive a student’s projected location within the larger distribution of 2013 spring test scores. These projections represent our estimate of a student’s spring 2013 score at a school with average value-added. Predictions by school and grade are the mean of projected scores for all of a school’s students in a given grade and subject. These can also be created at the teacher level.

In many cases, it is useful to combine the “growth targets” created through the goal-setting process with a “gap closing” measure that provides a measure of progress toward an externally-defined standard of adequacy, such as a proficiency cut score or a college readiness benchmark score. In VARC’s work with the Milwaukee Public Schools, for example, the goal-setting exercise has two distinct components: a value-added growth piece, which sets targets for student growth at the school and grade level in the manner described above (compared to the growth of similar MPS students in the past); and a gap closure piece which sets targets for reducing gaps between current (fall) performance on the Measures of Academic Progress and college readiness scores in the spring.