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Should Value-Added Models Control for Student Absences?

by Seth Gershenson - September 01, 2016

Background: Whether or not value-added models should control for contemporaneous student absences is theoretically ambiguous, as such absences are only partly outside of teachers’ control. Teachers often feel strongly that value-added models should account for student attendance, and many districts’ value-added models condition on lagged student absences as a result.

Objective: Using matched teacher-student administrative data from a statewide longitudinal data system, this note investigates the practical importance of this modeling decision for value-added measures of teacher effectiveness (VAMs).

Research Design: This is a secondary analysis.

Analysis: I compare VAM-based rankings of teacher effectiveness generated by value-added models that either control for current absences, control for lagged absences, or exclude student absences altogether.

Findings: Regardless of how between-school differences are accounted for, VAM-based rankings of teacher effectiveness are insensitive to how, and whether, student absences enter the value-added model’s conditioning set. Spearman Rank Correlations are always larger than 0.99 for both math and reading VAMs, suggesting that whether or not value-added models control for student absences is a relatively unimportant modeling decision, at least in the context of self-contained primary school classroom teachers.

Conclusions: These results are consistent with recent research suggesting that simply conditioning on lagged achievement yields approximately unbiased VAMs. Moreover, assuming no behavioral response on the part of teachers, these findings suggest that controlling for student absences in teacher evaluation systems’ value-added models is a relatively inexpensive way to increase teacher buy-in.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: September 01, 2016
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21629, Date Accessed: 1/21/2021 10:06:36 PM

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About the Author
  • Seth Gershenson
    American University
    E-mail Author
    SETH GERSHENSON is an Assistant Professor in American University’s School of Public Affairs and a Research Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA). His research interests include teacher labor markets and the roles of expectations and home environments in the education production function. His recent research has been published in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management and Economics of Education Review.
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