Academic journal article English Education

Value-Added Models and Why We Should All Be Worried

Academic journal article English Education

Value-Added Models and Why We Should All Be Worried

Article excerpt

The Scarlet U-Lisa

It came out of nowhere one day after school.

"Dr. Scherff, can I see you for a moment?"

No one likes to hear those words from their principal, but I couldn't think of anything I had done wrong (well, I did show parts of All the President's Men to my Global Perspectives class, but films and documentaries are very closely tied to the curricular themes we study, and we were starting a unit on Technology and Surveillance).

I was unprepared, however, for what he did say. "I want to let you know about something before it comes out." Uh oh, this is not good.

"The VAM scores came out, and yours was Unsatisfactory."

I almost laughed. Seriously. But inside I was experiencing both a slow and fast motion range of feelings: incredulity, hilarity, embarrassment, confusion, anger.

"I want to show you . . ." (from here it gets a little fuzzy because I was beginning to process the implications of this "score" so the quote I attribute to him may not be 100 percent accurate). "They used 67 of your students and came up with unsatisfactory. I have been in your room. You are a great teacher. This makes no sense to me." Me either, I thought.

That was around November 13, 2014, a few days before I left for the NCTE Annual Convention. It was also the middle of the second quarter of a four-quarter school year. In other words, I was told I was a rotten teacher and I still had well over 100 days to "teach."

Since that time (it is now February) I have had time to think-and get really angry. That unsatisfactory VAM completely canceled out my Highly Effective principal rating to give me an overall rating of Unsatisfactory for the year.1 Yes, you read that correctly. I am completely, totally, 100 percent UNSATISFACTORY. That. Has. Serious. Implications.

Can I get pink-slipped? (Teachers no longer have tenure but are on annual contracts.) Will I get involuntarily transferred? Will I be assigned a collegial coach to help me improve my teaching (as I think our contract reads)?

I am angry at the system. I am angry at what measure they used, the FCAT (a ridiculous "reading" test that my students are forced to take and pass to get a high school diploma), which is the main criterion to judge my 180 days' worth of teaching. I am angry that even though I taught the same 67 kids as some of my colleagues, some of these colleagues got additional measures2 to add to, and improve, their overall VAM score. And, I am angriest at myself that while I was in teacher education I was upset with VAM, but I didn't get angry enough to speak out, like I am now.

There are a lot of resources to assist us in writing and speaking out, such as the American Statistical Association (ASA), journal articles, blogs, and position statements (our colleagues Anne Whitney and Melanie Shoffner have both published reaction statements, for example). In 2014 the ASA published the "ASA Statement on Using Value-Added Models for Educational Assessment," which outlined several key points of concern that relate to teacher naming/shaming. One is particularly relevant:

The measure of student achievement is typically a score on a standardized test, and VAMs are only as good as the data fed into them. Ideally, tests should fully measure student achievement with respect to the curriculum objectives and content standards adopted by the state, in both breadth and depth. In practice, no test meets this stringent standard, and it needs to be recognized that, at best, most VAMs predict only performance on the test and not necessarily long-range learning outcomes. Other student outcomes are predicted only to the extent that they are correlated with test scores. A teacher's efforts to encourage students' creativity or help colleagues improve their instruction, for example, are not explicitly recognized in VAMs.

The point above is pertinent to the students used in my VAM score. First is the test used-the FCAT. After taking it as sophomores, students never take it again (unless they do not earn the "cut" score). …

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