One of my favorite bloggers is Anthony Cody. Anthony is an experienced teacher of science in California. I always learn by reading his blog “Living in Dialogue.” He recently offered his column to a teacher in Florida to explain how his or her evaluation was affected by “value-added modeling” or VAM.
The idea behind VAM is that teachers should be evaluated based on the rise or fall of their students’ test scores. Arne Duncan made VAM a requirement of the Race to the Top program, despite the lack of any studies or research validating this practice and despite ample warnings that it was invalid and would mislabel teachers as effective or ineffective. Nonetheless, many states pushed through legislation requiring that teachers be evaluated in part by their students’ changing scores. If the scores went up, they were a good teacher; if they did not, they were an ineffective teacher.
This idea was embraced most warmly by very conservative Republican governors like Rick Scott in Florida, where VAM accounts for fifty percent of a teacher’s evaluation. In the column cited here, the Florida teacher explains how it works and how absurd it is. This teacher teaches social studies to students in the 9th and 10th grades. When he/she went to get his evaluation, it turned out that the administrator had no idea how VAM would work, especially since the Florida test does not test social studies for 9th and 10th graders. At first, the teacher was told that his/her evaluation would be based on the whole school’s scores–not just the students in his/her classes–but then he/she convinced the administrator that the evaluation should be based only on those in his/her particular classes. That took a while to figure out. The teacher got the FCAT scores in May, but it took the district or state three months to prepare the teachers’ VAM using those scores.
By the end of the blog, it is obvious that the calculation of VAM is confusing, non-scientific, and inherently unrelated to teacher performance. It will be used to take away teachers’ due process rights and any protection for their freedom of speech. It is a weapon created to harass teachers. As this teacher concludes:
As someone who is not comfortable living life on my knees with duct tape over my mouth (you may have figured this out by now if you have been reading this blog for any length of time), I am not comfortable working on an annual contract. Teachers must be able to voice their concerns about administrative decisions that harm students without fear of losing their jobs. Eliminate continuing contracts and a culture of complacency, sycophants and fear will rule the schools. Senate Bills passed in state after Race to the Top state have included VAMs as a major portion of teacher evaluations all in the name of “Student Success” and “Educational Excellence” when in reality they have been immaculately designed to end the teaching profession as we know it and free state and districts from career teachers with pension aspirations. Some may brush me off as your typical history teacher conspiracy nut, but my daddy didn’t raise no sucker. VAM is a scam.