The Value Added Model adds no Value

States across America continue to grapple with low levels of student achievement. In Florida and elsewhere, the latest attempt at education reform and teacher accountability is called the Value Added Model (VAM). There is no question that some teachers add more value to a student’s academic success than others; but believing added value can be measured accurately is impossible. Attempting to assign “a teacher of record” for student learning gains is like trying to pinpoint the reason for acquiring something as complex as language. It can’t be done.

In theory, the VAM attempts to align teacher quality with student test score gains using what appear to be elaborate statistical formulas to determine a teacher's effectiveness. Unfortunately, the very premise of the VAM is flawed because it assumes that learning is a linear process of intentional causation.

The value added model only looks for academic gains in a narrow focus such as reading or math. They are not capable of evaluating gains in, say, physics or economics. And yet all teachers are held accountable and compared against each other within the model.

Even RAND, a leader in promoting VAM, stated: “value-added estimates enable relative judgments but are not absolute indicators of effectiveness” because “there is no specific number that identifies “acceptable” performance.” When the reliability and validity of these models is suspect and there is no single VAM that all researchers use, legitimate VA data is at best a shot in the dark.

Achievement in the classroom is an extensive systemic endeavor that is comprised of a dynamic set of factors far too complicated for any VAM to accurately determine a specific teacher’s effectiveness. As such, teacher evaluations based on a VAM are flawed. And when teacher pay is determined by a VAM based on private free market assumptions that do not apply to public school institutions, compensation will be based on unjust metrics.

Teachers do not work in a vacuum. There are far too many variables that have significant effects on an individual student’s achievement that cannot be controlled by the classroom teacher. The following is just a short list of the infinite external factors that interfere with a teacher’s ability to educate.

•           ESE/ESOL/504 accommodations/pull-outs

•           Out for EOC/FCAT/CTE testing

•           In-school/out-of-school suspension

•           Transfer students/in-house schedule changes

•           Homebound

•           Guidance appointments/presentations

•           Out for military ASVAB testing

•           Chronic tardiness

•           Band/Concert performances

•           Students in court/probation meetings

•           Illegal drug use

•           Pep rally/ awards assembly’s/parties

•           JROTC formal inspections

•           TSA competitions

•           Drama performances

•           Homelessness

•           Speech and debate competitions

•           Pregnancy

•           Discipline problems

•           Lack of parental support/ oversight/homework monitoring

•           Lack of personal/academic responsibility

All this in addition to field trips, sponsored sports events, fire or tornado drills, vacations, and doctor or dental appointments.

(Note: it is not uncommon for a high school teacher to have 1800 student absences in a school year.)

It is not hard to piece together the fact that if a teacher does not have a student to teach, it is very hard to teach a student. Here’s a suggestion: to those promoting VAM’s:  take all these variables into account, then we can begin a discussion of the usefulness of VAM’s. Until then, VAM’s are a pseudoscientific attempt to determine a teacher’s effectiveness with individual students.

Let’s set the record straight. Teachers need to teach effectively and do everything they can to increase the level of academic achievement so that students grow in each and every classroom every day. Testing is also essential to evaluate student needs and check for mastery of subject matter. And accountability is a cornerstone to create incentives to motivate and push educators toward a higher degree of effectiveness. Lastly, exposing the weaknesses of VAM’s is not intended to help intransigent teachers unions protect weak teachers or maintain the status quo of an education system which is a complete and utter disaster.

The bottom line is that students have to actually be in the classroom, engaged and ready to learn with discipline, personal responsibility, and respect; while schools have to actually hold students and parents responsible to a set of rules, values, and principles that actually align with the goals of effective teaching and student learning. The real story here is the performance gains teachers actually produce in spite of the horrendous stack of hurdles educators face.

The Value Added Model, may look empirical, feel compassionate, and make some feel well of themselves promoting the latest fad “for the children.” But just as the road to perdition was paved in good intentions, VAM proponents are leading schools down a devilish path. At the end of the school day, the Value Added Model has no value.

States across America continue to grapple with low levels of student achievement. In Florida and elsewhere, the latest attempt at education reform and teacher accountability is called the Value Added Model (VAM). There is no question that some teachers add more value to a student’s academic success than others; but believing added value can be measured accurately is impossible. Attempting to assign “a teacher of record” for student learning gains is like trying to pinpoint the reason for acquiring something as complex as language. It can’t be done.

In theory, the VAM attempts to align teacher quality with student test score gains using what appear to be elaborate statistical formulas to determine a teacher's effectiveness. Unfortunately, the very premise of the VAM is flawed because it assumes that learning is a linear process of intentional causation.

The value added model only looks for academic gains in a narrow focus such as reading or math. They are not capable of evaluating gains in, say, physics or economics. And yet all teachers are held accountable and compared against each other within the model.

Even RAND, a leader in promoting VAM, stated: “value-added estimates enable relative judgments but are not absolute indicators of effectiveness” because “there is no specific number that identifies “acceptable” performance.” When the reliability and validity of these models is suspect and there is no single VAM that all researchers use, legitimate VA data is at best a shot in the dark.

Achievement in the classroom is an extensive systemic endeavor that is comprised of a dynamic set of factors far too complicated for any VAM to accurately determine a specific teacher’s effectiveness. As such, teacher evaluations based on a VAM are flawed. And when teacher pay is determined by a VAM based on private free market assumptions that do not apply to public school institutions, compensation will be based on unjust metrics.

Teachers do not work in a vacuum. There are far too many variables that have significant effects on an individual student’s achievement that cannot be controlled by the classroom teacher. The following is just a short list of the infinite external factors that interfere with a teacher’s ability to educate.

•           ESE/ESOL/504 accommodations/pull-outs

•           Out for EOC/FCAT/CTE testing

•           In-school/out-of-school suspension

•           Transfer students/in-house schedule changes

•           Homebound

•           Guidance appointments/presentations

•           Out for military ASVAB testing

•           Chronic tardiness

•           Band/Concert performances

•           Students in court/probation meetings

•           Illegal drug use

•           Pep rally/ awards assembly’s/parties

•           JROTC formal inspections

•           TSA competitions

•           Drama performances

•           Homelessness

•           Speech and debate competitions

•           Pregnancy

•           Discipline problems

•           Lack of parental support/ oversight/homework monitoring

•           Lack of personal/academic responsibility

All this in addition to field trips, sponsored sports events, fire or tornado drills, vacations, and doctor or dental appointments.

(Note: it is not uncommon for a high school teacher to have 1800 student absences in a school year.)

It is not hard to piece together the fact that if a teacher does not have a student to teach, it is very hard to teach a student. Here’s a suggestion: to those promoting VAM’s:  take all these variables into account, then we can begin a discussion of the usefulness of VAM’s. Until then, VAM’s are a pseudoscientific attempt to determine a teacher’s effectiveness with individual students.

Let’s set the record straight. Teachers need to teach effectively and do everything they can to increase the level of academic achievement so that students grow in each and every classroom every day. Testing is also essential to evaluate student needs and check for mastery of subject matter. And accountability is a cornerstone to create incentives to motivate and push educators toward a higher degree of effectiveness. Lastly, exposing the weaknesses of VAM’s is not intended to help intransigent teachers unions protect weak teachers or maintain the status quo of an education system which is a complete and utter disaster.

The bottom line is that students have to actually be in the classroom, engaged and ready to learn with discipline, personal responsibility, and respect; while schools have to actually hold students and parents responsible to a set of rules, values, and principles that actually align with the goals of effective teaching and student learning. The real story here is the performance gains teachers actually produce in spite of the horrendous stack of hurdles educators face.

The Value Added Model, may look empirical, feel compassionate, and make some feel well of themselves promoting the latest fad “for the children.” But just as the road to perdition was paved in good intentions, VAM proponents are leading schools down a devilish path. At the end of the school day, the Value Added Model has no value.

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