The Folly of Value-Added Modeling
“Every classroom should have a well-educated, professional teacher, and school systems should recruit, prepare and retain teachers who are qualified to do the job” (Baker, 2010); of course, every patient “should [also] have a well-educated, professional [doctor]”; every client “should [also] have a well-educated, professional [lawyer as well]…” However, no one would attempt to apply value-added modeling to evaluate doctors and lawyers because it is foolish.
Should a well-educated, professional teacher be evaluated through value-added modeling then? It is what we know through research that answers this question with an emphatic “No”: “Student test scores alone are not sufficiently reliable and valid indicators of teacher effectiveness to be used in high-stakes personnel decisions… [Furthermore,] drilling students on narrow tests does not necessarily translate into broader skills that students will use outside of test-taking situations” (Baker).
Multiple-choice tests (convergent thinking) do not measure essential communication skills and other proficiencies such as synthesizing and conducting research, validating information, applying knowledge, valuing and cultivating beliefs, and other divergent critical thinking.
It is what we should already know regarding underachievement in public schools across the nation that needs to be the nation’s focus. The significant causes of underachievement in public schools across the nation are poverty, malnutrition, household unemployment, urban violence, dysfunctional parenting and divorce…
What influences students’ achievement? According to research: “Both previous teachers and, in secondary schools, current teachers of other subjects—as well as tutors or instructional specialists…; the quality of curriculum materials…; class size…; school attendance and a variety of out-of-school learning experiences at home, with peers…, [and] summer programs…; family resources, student health, [and] family mobility…[affect students’ achievement]” (Baker).
What also alters students’ achievement are the “quality of principal leadership, school finance, availability of counseling and special education services…, turnover rates of teachers, and so forth…” (Berliner, 2012).
What are some of the undesirable consequences of mandating value-added modeling? As stated by Richard Rothstein, et al. in Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right (2008): “Research and experience indicate that approaches to teacher evaluation that rely heavily on test scores can lead to narrowing and over-simplifying the curriculum, and to misidentifying both successful and unsuccessful teachers. These and other problems can undermine teacher morale, as well as provide disincentives for teachers to take the neediest students… When attached to individual merit pay plans, such approaches may also create disincentives for teacher collaboration” (Baker).
Value-added modeling does not address the existing inequities of students from various socio-economic backgrounds or with special needs. What’s more, “value-added scores are affected by difference in the types of students who happen to be in [a teacher’s] classroom…” (Baker). [According to Timothy Sass (2008)]: “Researchers have found that teachers’ effectiveness ratings differ from class to class, from year to year, and from test to test, even when these are within the same content area… A teacher who appears to be very effective (or ineffective) in one year might have a dramatically different result the following year… [In addition,] using test scores to evaluate teachers unfairly disadvantage teachers of the neediest students” (Baker).
The Folly of Bush’s and Obama’s Federal Mandates
No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top do not effectively contribute to students’ learning; there is no evidence to support the claims that these federal mandates are successful, despite the declarations of Arne Duncan and President Obama. Evidence is available, however, that substantiates school reform mandates undermine local governance and democratic education (National Education Policy Center, NEPC).
Moreover, according to research from NEPC, what is essential for student learning and success requires
· [Moving] from a punitive to a participatory model for engaging local communities in reform efforts;
· [Encouraging] the adoption by states and locales of curriculum standards that include a substantive focus on (as opposed to mere lip service to) the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary for effective participation in a democratic society;
· [Curtailing] the privatization of public resources through Supplemental Education Services (SES) and school choice;
· [Seeking] ways to promote integrated schools in order to ensure access to equal educational opportunities and the diverse context of learning that all students need for inculcation of democratic character” (Howe, 2012).
Establishing a system of compliance in the nation’s public schools, one that is driven by billionaire capitalistic bullies that finance segregated and biased charter (and Teach for America) enterprises where students become hostages of for-profit schemes, is a devious ploy. Federal mandates that ignore the significant causes of student failure; that devalue the teaching profession and demean professionally-trained educators; mandates that also use standardized tests to regulate public school funding and to determine teachers’ expertise while advancing for-profit corporations (such as Pearson Education, Inc.) and robbing public school funds (by way of vouchers) reveal an obvious faulty and damaging policy.
The Folly of Teacher Evaluations Knotted to Student Testing
To ask what is right, good or obligatory is to enter the realm of normative ethics – ideals or rules of conduct that constitute moral standards (not only for student learning but for teacher evaluation as well).
“[It is true] there is no simple shortcut to the identification and removal of ineffective teachers. It must surely be done, but such actions will unlikely be successful if they are based on over-reliance on student test scores whose flaws can so easily provide the basis for successful challenges to any personnel action.
“Districts seeking to remove ineffective teachers must invest the time and resources in a comprehensive approach to evaluation that incorporates concrete steps for the improvement of teacher performance based on professional standards of instructional practice, and unambiguous evidence for dismissal, if improvements do not occur… [Test] scores should be only one element among many considered in teacher profiles…
“Given the importance of teachers’ collective efforts to improve overall student achievement in a school, an additional component of documenting practice and outcomes should focus on the effectiveness of teacher participation in teams and the contributions they make to school-wide improvement, through work in curriculum development, sharing practices and materials, peer coaching and reciprocal observation, and collegial work with students…
“Professional organizations should [also] assume greater responsibility for developing standards of evaluation that districts can use. Such work, which must be performed by professional experts, should not be pre-empted by political institutions acting without evidence…
“What is now necessary is a comprehensive system that gives teachers the guidance and feedback, supportive leadership, and working conditions to improve their performance, and that permits schools to remove persistently ineffective teachers without distorting the entire instructional program by imposing a flawed system of standardized quantification of teacher quality” (Baker).
Value-added modeling and federal mandates do not effectively evaluate a teacher’s performance. Besides, it is not difficult to realize the attacks on public school teachers, their unions, and community public schools are part of a greater execution of capitalistic self-interests for the wealthy and powerful; that we are witnessing a blitzkrieg deconstruction of the middle class, privatization of public ownership and industry, cuts to needed spending, and the elimination of the public sphere and social funding.
As stated by Professor William Ayers at the University of Illinois (at Chicago), part of the government and corporate agenda is “[to turn] over public assets and spaces to private management; [to dismantle] and [oppose] any independent, collective voice of teachers; and [reduce] to a single narrow metric that claims to recognize an educated person in a test score.”
In short, the unethical “winner-take-all” economy generated by and for wealthy and powerful egomaniacs comes at the expense of everyone else. It is destroying the nation’s public school systems and their teachers and the representative democracy they embody.
Baker, Eva L. et al. (Paul E. Barton, Linda Darling-Hammond, Edward Haertel, Helen F. Ladd, Robert L. Linn, Diane Ravitch, Richard Rothstein, Richard J. Shavelson, and Lorrie A. Shepard). 2010. “Problems with the Use of Student Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers.” Briefing Paper #278. Washington D.C. Economic Policy Institute. http://www.epi.org/publication/bp278/