Individual Student Growth Is Focus of California Analysis Model

Published September 1, 2004

A new report from the San Francisco, California-based Pacific Research Institute urges the state to adopt a school accountability model focused on the progress of individual students toward meeting subject matter proficiency. Accountability currently is measured by comparing student cohorts against each other.

The system recommended by Harold C. Doran and Lance T. Izumi, authors of “Putting Education to the Test: A Value-Added Model for California,” uses each student’s Rate of Expected Academic Change (REACH) to reveal the impact of teaching on individual students–regardless of whether those students started class behind their peers or ahead of them. Tennessee was the first state to utilize such a “value-added” accountability model. Other states, including Colorado and Utah, are considering the adoption of such a system.


“In the value-added system, students are tracked individually, so no one can fall through the cracks,” said Izumi. “And the model enables schools to reward teachers for individual student progress, no matter where those students initially rank compared to their peers.”

That assessment was echoed by J.E. Stone, a professor of educational psychology at East Tennessee State University and founder of the Education Consumers’ Clearinghouse.

“One of the great advantages of value-added assessment is its fairness to teachers and schools,” said Stone. “All student improvement counts, even if it is earned by low-achieving students.”

According to Doran and Izumi, the adoption of a value-added model will help educators and policy makers better evaluate the impact of policies and programs on student learning, promote better instruction, measure teacher effectiveness, and improve teacher professional development. For students and teachers, the model delivers an academic wake-up call by showing how much a student must progress in order to reach proficiency.

The value-added model also enables educators and policy makers to better judge the quality of classrooms and schools, and to pinpoint schools that are not making expected gains in student learning during the school year. Such precision is important in evaluating schools under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) so schools that are effective in helping low-achieving students make accelerated progress are not penalized.

“The value-added model proposed by PRI gives educators in California and all other states an important tool to better evaluate the effectiveness of education policies and programs, promote better student instruction, better measure school effectiveness, improve teacher training, and meet the No Child Left Behind requirement that all students be proficient in reading and math,” said Izumi.

California’s current accountability system is not an effective diagnostic tool for educators or lawmakers, Doran and Izumi contend. Under the testing and accountability system enacted in 1999, California schools receive a score and ranking on the Academic Performance Index (API) based on the average performance of students on the California Standards Test and the California Achievement Test. Although academic growth of individual students is not tracked, the state establishes a growth target for each school for improvement.

However, growth targets are formulated based on performance of students from the year before rather than on current enrollees. This produces a “snapshot reporting problem” because student cohorts change from year to year. Cohorts vary particularly in schools where student mobility is high.

“Snapshot” systems encourage educators to focus instruction on middle-performing students rather than all students, note the authors, because it is easier to bring these students to standard. Academic growth of students below standard, even if it is substantial, is not measured. This type of accountability model can provide misleading school-level results because it compares schools without taking into account progress or factors outside of the school environment. It cannot isolate the value of an individual teacher’s skill.

For those reasons, the authors recommend adoption of the value-added accountability system described in the report. A database necessary for such a system will be available in 2007, thanks to passage of two pieces of legislation:

  • A 2002 law requires the state department of education to request proposals for a longitudinal individual student achievement database.
  • A 2003 law requires the state to assign individual identification numbers to track students.

The 2003 law establishes a state-appointed advisory committee to issue recommendations to the superintendent of public instruction on the feasibility of a value-added system using the unique student identifier. With the approval of the state Board of Education, the state superintendent may then implement a value-added system.

Krista Kafer ([email protected]) is senior policy analyst for education at The Heritage Foundation.

For more information …

The June 2004 report from the Pacific Research Institute, “Putting Education to the Test: A Value-Added Model for California,” by Harold C. Doran and Lance T. Izumi, is available online at