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Sunday, December 9, 2012

VAM = Very Awful Measurement

From the Gainesville Sun by Dan Boyd
‘Florida bungles teacher evaluations. Garbage in, garbage out. Not ready for prime time."
These are just a few of the headlines and quotes appearing across the state, and even in the national media, in the wake of the release of "preliminary" results of the new teacher evaluation system Florida lawmakers put in place last year. Once again our state is getting a black eye as a result of ill-conceived and poorly-implemented policies.
The new evaluation system the state rushed to implement is based on what's called the value-added model, VAM for short. Essentially the state predicts what a student's score will be on the FCAT, then looks at how the student actually did and evaluates teachers accordingly.
It's a system that's been tried and studied in other places across the country. There's no evidence it's valid, but the state went ahead with it anyway.
What the state refused to do was come up with one consistent formula for using VAM scores statewide. Instead, it dumped that responsibility onto the districts, which were left to come up with their own formulas with little guidance from the state and without any actual data.
As a result, we've got 67 districts with 67 formulas. So it's no wonder that the report released, withdrawn and then re-released by the Florida Department of Education (DOE) in the past couple of days shows such wild inconsistencies between districts.
Some districts set their formula low, others set them high. Naturally those that set the bar lower had more teachers in the "highly effective" and "effective" categories. That means teachers with the same VAM scores could be "highly effective" in one county but classified as "needs improvement" in the next county over.
What's worse, some districts haven't even submitted their figures yet. Palm Beach has nearly 12,000 teachers. None of them are counted in the report. Miami-Dade County has more than 20,000 teachers; only 168 are counted. How on earth is the public supposed to draw useful conclusions from this report when more than one-quarter of Florida's teachers aren't included?
That's only one of the system's many flaws. The law forces districts to assign student VAM scores to all teachers, including those who didn't teach FCAT subjects or grade levels. As a result, 75 percent of Alachua County's teachers got scores for subjects they don't teach, students they don't teach, or both. It makes no sense, but it's what we're stuck with.
In light of the public bashing DOE officials have gotten over the last few days, they've now given districts the opportunity to submit revised evaluation plans. Some districts have already done so.
Alachua County is sending up a revised plan. The DOE will still have to approve it and it will still have to comply with the law. And there's the rub, because any way you slice it, this system is badly flawed. It's inconsistent, it's unfair and it's unscientific. Worst of all, there's no proof that it does anything to actually help students.
Dan Boyd is superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools.

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