Friday, November 21, 2014

Principals vs. VAM

The National Association of Secondary School Principals issued a statement on November 7 that it intended to adopt a policy statement regarding the use of Value-Added measures in teacher evaluation. The policy statement is currently in its 60-day comment period, with final deliberation on the policy at the February meeting.

You can read the whole thing here, and you should. But let me run through the sparknotes version for you.

The Challenge

States are adopting new VAM measures that count for up to 50% of teacher evaluation scores in some states. At the same time, states were adopting certain "more rigorous college- and career standards. These standards are intended to raise the bar from having every student earn a high school diploma to the much more ambitious goal of having every student be on-target for success in post-secondary education and training."

Do you detect a whiff of feistiness in the NASSP language? It's subtle, but I think I can scent it on the breeze.

For instance, the statement notes that the new standards require a departure from the "old, much less expensive" tests. "Not surprisingly," raising the bar and adding new assessments results in far fewer "proficient" students.

Herein lies the challenge for principals and school leaders. New teacher evaluation systems demand the inclusion of student data at a time when scores on new assessments are dropping. The fears accompanying any new evaluation system have been magnified by the inclusion of data that will get worse before it gets better. Principals are concerned that the new evaluation systems are eroding trust and are detrimental to building a culture of collaboration and continuous improvement necessary to successfully raise student performance to college and career-ready levels.

 And then there's VAM.

The Trouble With VAM

Given what VAM claims it can do, "at first glance, it would appear reasonable to use VAMs to gauge teacher effectiveness." But the statement continues-- "Unfortunately, policy makers have acted on that impression over the consistent objections of researchers" who have said it's a bad idea. And then they start ticking off the VAM objections.

They cite the 2014 American Statistical Association report urging schools not to use VAM to make personnel decisions. They offer some strong quotage from the ASA report.

They cite the "peer-reviewed study" funded by Gates and published by AERA which stated emphatically that "Value-added performance measures do not reflect the content or quality of teachers' instruction." This study went on to note that VAM doesn't seem to correspond to anything that anybody considers a feature of good teaching.

They cite the objections of researchers Bruce Baker and Edward Haertal. They move on to Linda Darling-Hammond. They include plenty of well-researched, clear but not inflammatory language that hammers away at how VAM simply can't be used to evaluate teachers in any real or meaningful way. It's very direct, very clear, and kind of awesome.

Their Recommendations

I'll compress here.

NASSP recommends that teacher eval include multiple measure, and that Peer Assistance and Review programs are the way to go. Teacher-constructed portfolios of student learning are also cool.

VAMs should be used to fine tune programs and instructional methods as well as professional development on a building level, but they should not be "used to make key personnel decisions about individual teachers."  Principals should be trained in how to properly interpret and use VAMmy data.

And they have footnotes.

If you are looking for a clear-headed professional take-down of the idea that VAM should be used for personnel decisions by the people who have to help make those decisions, here it is. As many reformsters on the TNTP-Fordham-Bellwether axis of reformdom bemoan the fact that school leaders don't use data to inform their personnel decisions, here is an actual national association of actual school leaders saying why they prefer not to use VAM data to make personnel decisions. Now if only reformsters and policy makers will actually pay attention to the school leaders on the front lines.


  1. Hopefully they'll pay more attention to them than they do to those of us in the cheap seats.

  2. And if all the principals would listen as well. I know several who think VAM is just grand.

  3. I agree there are many flaws to using VAM for teacher evaluation. I do however, believe that VAM has powerful applications in regards to looking at individual students and how they are (or are not) progressing. For example, at my middle school we use VAM data to assist with scheduling. Students with high VAM's but are below grade level are grouped with higher achieving peers to accelerate their growth. Students with low VAM's are given remediation in targeted areas. On a building level we have emphasized growth to students but do not focus on teacher VAM scores. The result is teachers are more willing to work with students that won't affect their VAM scores. Teachers will stay after school to help kids that they don't teach during the school day. The way I see it, VAM is useful data, and if applied correctly can improve student outcomes.

  4. I don't think the VAMmers will care that actual educators understand the limitations of VAM. The VAMmers goal is not really the evaluation of teachers, but rather the privatization of public education. VAM is just one tool in their goody bag. In fact, it's a plus that test scores will go down because that "proves" that public schools are failing. Enter VAM to dump the blame for failing schools on teachers...

    My guess is that's exactly the outcome that's desired.