Florida’s VAM scores become the laughingstock of the nation

the Washington Post by Valerie Strauss
If  ever there were a meaningless exercise in the annals of
evaluation, it would be this one.

The Florida Times-Union newspaper sued the state Education
Department to get access to what are called “value-added” scores of teachers
that are used to make high-stakes decisions about their jobs. These scores come
from student standardized test scores, which are then plugged into a
complicated formula that supposedly can calculate the “value” a teacher adds to
a student’s achievement. In Florida, half of a teacher’s evaluation comes from
these scores and the other half from administrative observation; the ratios are
different in different states.

The First District Court of Appeals granted the newspaper’s
request, forcing the department to turn over the scores.

Here’s the thing: These formulas can’t determine a teacher’s
value with any constant validity or reliability, and testing experts have urged
policy makers not to use it for any high-stakes decisions about students,
teachers, principals or anybody else. Unfortunately, Florida and many other
states, encouraged by the Obama 
administration, have ignored this advice and
now use this “value-added method” (VAM) of evaluation.

There are numerous problems with using VAM scores for
high-stakes decisions, but in this particular release of data, the most obvious
and perhaps the most egregious one is this: Some 70 percent of the Florida
teachers received VAM scores based on test results from students they didn’t
teach and/or in subjects they don’t teach.

Yes, you read that right: Teachers are being evaluated on
students they didn’t teach and/or subjects they don’t teach. How can that be?

In subjects for which there are no standardized test — which is
most of them — teachers are evaluated on school-wide averages. Andy Ford,
president of the Florida Education Association, said that only about 30 percent
of Florida public school teachers teach both students and subjects for which
there are Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test exams.

Last April, seven teachers, along with the National Education
Association and the Florida Education Association, filed a lawsuit challenging
that evaluation system, arguing that it was unfair and violated the Equal
Protection and Due Process Clause of the Constitution. One of the seven
was Kim Cook of Alachua, Fla., who, as this post
, was evaluated at Irby Elementary, a K-2 school where
she works and was named Teacher of the Year last December. Forty percent of her
evaluation was based on test scores of students at another elementary school
whom she never taught.

Then in the summer, the state legislature passed a bill making
it illegal to evaluate teachers on standardized test scores of students they
never taught. But, Ford said, the bill still allows teachers to be evaluated on
students they may have in one class, but in a different subject. That means a
social studies teacher can be graded on the reading test scores of his/her
students. If you are trying to find the sense in that, quit trying.
That, Ford said in an interview, makes all of the scores
“meaningless.” He’s got that right.

The real problem here is not the release of the scores — which
unfortunately will be viewed by many as reflective of a teacher’s effectiveness
when they really aren’t — but rather that the Florida Education Department
actually calculates these scores and uses them in evaluations under the
mistaken notion that they are useful assessment tools.

If this kind of meaningless exercise doesn’t prove the meaning
of meaningless, tell me what does.

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