The premise of standards-based reform in Massachusetts is that a statewide commitment to standards, teaching, assessment, and accountability will lead to greater learning opportunities, higher achievement, a narrowing of the achievement gap, and a more promising future for all of the Commonwealth's students. And indeed, ten years after the passage of the 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Act, there is strong evidence-from rising scores on state and national tests to testimony from students and teachers themselves - that Massachusetts schools and students are rising to the challenge provided by rigorous academic standards.
Yet we have hardly begun to tap the wealth of information that the state has gathered on student learning. Federal "No Child Left Behind" legislation requires states to measure all students' progress toward "Proficiency". While Massachusetts has a sophisticated, even complex, state accountability system, the current system does not allow the Commonwealth to follow individual students' academic trajectory toward proficiency over time. Our current accountability system does not enable us to measure individual students' academic achievement over time.
The purpose of this paper is to propose that Massachusetts' accountability plan for schools and districts include a value-added component-a goal that can be realized given key opportunities which now exist. To meet federal NCLB mandates, Massachusetts is required to test all students annually in grades 3 through 8 by 2006-a process in which the Commonwealth has now invested significant time and fiscal resources. With the state's newly developed infrastructure and commitment to annual testing, value-added assessment has become a practical, viable reality in Massachusetts.
To explore how better use of student achievement data could enhance our current system of accountability and school improvement, the Rennie Center convened a diverse group - representing teachers' unions, parents, school committees, superintendents, principals, and other education experts - with whom we consulted over several months in preparation of this report. The group focused its attention on the measurement, over time, of student learning gains. We believe that such a system will enhance:
- The state's capacity to make fair judgments about school effectiveness;
- Teachers' capacity to provide focused learning support for students;
- Parents' understanding of their children's academic growth in school; and
- Administrators' and local policymakers' decisions about how to improve educational programs.
This paper presents the Rennie Center's conclusions about how and why Massachusetts should supplement its current accountability system with value-added analysis. We do not see value-added analysis as a substitute but rather as a complement that adds breadth and depth.