Uncertainty in rank estimation: Implications for value-added modeling accountability systems

J. R. Lockwood, Thomas A. Louis, Daniel F. McCaffrey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Accountability for public education often requires estimating and ranking the quality of individual teachers or schools on the basis of student test scores. Although the properties of estimators of teacher-or-school effects are well established, less is known about the properties of rank estimators. We investigate performance of rank (percentile) estimators in a basic, two-stage hierarchical model capturing the essential features of the more complicated models that are commonly used to estimate effects. We use simulation to study mean squared error (MSE) performance of percentile estimates and to find the operating characteristics of decision rules based on estimated percentiles. Each depends on the signal-to-noise ratio (the ratio of the teacher or school variance component to the variance of the direct, teacher- or school-specific estimator) and only moderately on the number of teachers or schools. Results show that even when using optimal procedures, MSE is large for the commonly encountered variance ratios, with an unrealistically large ratio required for ideal performance. Percentile-specific MSE results reveal interesting interactions between variance ratios and estimators, especially for extreme percentiles, which are of considerable practical import. These interactions are apparent in the performance of decision rules for the identification of extreme percentiles, underscoring the statistical and practical complexity of the multiple-goal inferences faced in value-added modeling. Our results highlight the need to assess whether even optimal percentile estimators perform sufficiently well to be used in evaluating teachers or schools.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)255-270
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Educational and Behavioral Statistics
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2002


  • Accountability
  • Bias-variance trade-off mean squared error
  • Percentile estimation
  • Teacher effects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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