Learn from the Best

By guest poster, Brett Pawlowski, EVP of the National Center for College and Career Transitions.

For several years, I helped put on an annual awards ceremony for principals in Tennessee. The awards were based on schools’ TVAAS scores (the state’s measure of value-added performance), with the highest-performing elementary and middle schools in the state receiving cash awards, banners, and publicity in a ceremony hosted by the state Secretary of Education.

For those not familiar with value-added assessment, it seeks to remove those variables that the school has no control over, like poverty and students’ academic proficiency at the beginning of the year, and measures their progress from year to year as compared to how well they would be expected to perform based on their previous history. If a student is expected to make eight months of academic progress over the course of a year based on their track record, and instead makes a full year of progress or more, they produce a very high value-added score. If they’ve consistently made a year’s worth of academic gains in the past but post less than that this year, they produce a low TVAAS score.

It’s not without controversy – not everyone agrees with its use or its accuracy – but it’s supposed to be a measure of true academic progress, compared with traditional proficiency scores that correlate strongly with poverty rates. The idea is to measure what the school brings to the student, and not what the student brings to the school. And whether or not everyone agrees with its use, it is an official state measure, so it’s supposed to be important to administrators.

I got to know several of the repeat winners over the years, and sometimes asked whether they were inundated with calls from other principals seeking to learn how they performed so well. And each year, I was surprised to hear that no one had actually received such a call. (There may have been one or two exceptions over the years, but hardly the flood of interest you would imagine.)

What I learned from them – and what I’ve confirmed time and again with others over the years since – is that the people who are getting exceptional results are eager to share them, and disappointed when they don’t get that opportunity. My advice for you: If you hear about someone doing great work in your field, get in touch with them. Take them to lunch, meet them at their school, or ask for a tour of their program. I can almost guarantee that they’ll be thrilled to hear from you, and that you’ll learn from the single best source of knowledge: Someone who’s already excelled at something you want to do.


Brett Pawlowski is the Executive Vice President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions (www.nc3t.com).  NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance and tools to help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.

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