Public Release: 

Race to the Top education reforms should be evaluated

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

WASHINGTON -- The Race to the Top initiative -- a $4.35 billion grant program included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to encourage state-level education reforms -- should require rigorous evaluations of the reform efforts it funds, says a new report from the National Research Council. The initiative should support research based on data that links student test scores with their teachers, but should not prematurely promote the use of value-added approaches -- which evaluate teachers based on gains in their students' performance -- to reward or punish teachers. Too little is known about the accuracy of these methods to base high-stakes decisions on them right now, the report says.

The U.S. Department of Education is developing regulations that explain how the $4.35 billion will be awarded. The National Research Council's report offers recommendations to help the department revise these guidelines.

The report strongly supports rigorous evaluations of programs funded by the Race to the Top initiative. Only with careful evaluations -- which allow effective reforms to be identified and perhaps used elsewhere -- can the initiative have a lasting impact. Without them, any benefits of this one-time expenditure on innovation are likely to end when the funding ends, the report says.

Evaluations must be appropriate to the specific program being assessed and will be easier to design if grantees provide a "theory of action" for any proposed reform -- a logical chain of reasoning explaining how the innovation will lead to improved student learning. Evaluations should be designed before programs begin so baseline data can be collected; they should also provide short-term feedback to aid midcourse adjustments and long-term data to judge the program's impact. While standardized tests are helpful in measuring a reform's effects, evaluations should rely on multiple indicators of what students know and can do, not just a single test score, the report adds.

The Department of Education's proposed guidelines encourage states to create systems that link data on student achievement to teachers. The report applauds this step, arguing that linking this data is essential to conducting research about the best ways to evaluate teachers.

One way of evaluating teachers, currently the subject of intense interest and research, are value-added approaches, which typically compare a student's scores going into a grade with his or her scores coming out of it, in order to assess how much "value" a year with a particular teacher added to the student's educational experience. The report expresses concern that the department's proposed regulations place excessive emphasis on value-added approaches. Too little research has been done on these methods' validity to base high-stakes decisions about teachers on them. A student's scores may be affected by many factors other than a teacher -- his or her motivation, for example, or the amount of parental support -- and value-added techniques have not yet found a good way to account for these other elements.

The report also cautions against using the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federal assessment that helps measure overall U.S. progress in education, to evaluate programs funded by the Race to the Top initiative. NAEP surveys the knowledge of students across the nation in three grades with respect to a broad range of content and skills and is not aligned with the curriculum of any particular state. Although effective at monitoring broad trends, it is not designed to detect the specific effects of targeted interventions like those to be funded by Race to the Top.

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The study was sponsored by the National Research Council. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter. The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. A committee roster follows.

Copies of LETTER REPORT TO THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION ON THE RACE TO THE TOP FUND are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at HTTP://WWW.NAP.EDU. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).

[ This news release and report are available at HTTP://NATIONAL-ACADEMIES.ORG ]

NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
Board on Testing and Assessment

EDWARD HAERTEL (CHAIR)
Jacks Family Professor of Education, and
Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs
School of Education
Stanford University
Stanford, Calif.

LYLE F. BACHMAN
Professor and Chair
Department of Applied Linguistics and TESOL
University of California
Los Angeles

STEPHEN B. DUNBAR
Professor of Educational Measurement and Statistics
College of Education
University of Iowa
Iowa City

DAVID J. FRANCIS
Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished Professor and Director
Department of Psychology
University of Houston
Houston

ARTHUR S. GOLDBERGER*
Professor Emeritus
Department of Economics
University of Wisconsin
Madison

MICHAEL HOUT
Professor of Sociology
Graduate Group in Sociology and Demography
University of California
Berkeley

MICHAEL KANE
Samuel J. Messick Chair in Test Validity
Research and Development Division
Educational Testing Service
Princeton, N.J.

KEVIN LANG
Professor of Economics and Chair
Department of Economics
Boston University
Boston

MICHAEL NETTLES
Senior Vice President for Policy Evaluation and Research
Policy Evaluation and Research Center
Educational Testing Services
Princeton, N.J.

DIANA PULLIN
Professor
Lynch School of Education
Boston College
Chestnut Hill, Mass.

BRIAN STECHER
Senior Social Scientist
Education Program
RAND
Santa Monica, Calif.

MARK R. WILSON
Professor of Policy, Organization, Measurement, and Evaluation Cognition and Development
Graduate School of Education
University of California
Berkeley

REBECCA ZWICK
Professor of Education, and
Director of Research Methodology
Gevirtz Graduate School of Education
University of California
Santa Barbara

RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF

STUART ELLIOT
Study Director

JUDITH ANDERSON KOENIG
Senior Program Officer

* Member, National Academy of Sciences

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