The correct quote of research conclusions regarding the influence of teacher effectiveness relative to other factors states that “of all school related factors, teacher effectiveness is the greatest determinant of student outcomes followed closely by principal effectiveness”. While it is difficult to absolutely quantify the effect of various factors on student performance, most researchers have concluded that non-school factors including socioeconomic factors (primarily poverty levels) have approximately an 80% influence on student outcomes while school related factors make up the remaining 20%. That puts teacher effectiveness at a far cry from being the greatest determinant of student outcomes!
While improving teacher effectiveness is highly desirable for improving student performance, it is not the dominant factor. It follows that an evaluation system that makes a teacher's career so overwhelmingly dependent on student outcomes is a huge mistake and can produce many unfair unintended results. Louisiana's Act 54 of 2010 which makes 50% of a teacher's evaluation and therefore career dependent on student performance is counterproductive to say the least. In addition the Louisiana COMPASS evaluation plan allows an “ineffective” rating on VAM to totally invalidate the principals' observation portion of a teacher's evaluation and therefore is a violation of Act 54. It improperly magnifies any errors coming from the highly erratic and inaccurate VAM, and in those cases becomes 100% of a teacher's evaluation.
One of the principals who read my blog on flaws in VAM sent me an email informing me of another serious flaw involving what are called “connections” students. These are students who have failed the 8th grade LEAP but who state policy allows to move to a high school campus in hopes of getting them back on track for graduation. It seems that LDOE policy requires that if a high school teacher is teaching 10 or more of these students, the teacher may be included in the VAM portion of the evaluation system. This principal fears, with much justification, that if such students fail the 8th grade LEAP in the current year, their high school teachers could have their VAM score dragged down to the “ineffective” level. These teachers had nothing to do with moving such students up to the high school level, and may be providing minimal instruction related to the 8th grade LEAP, yet the teacher's job is being put in jeopardy by factors over which he/she have no control. It seems the examples of VAM flaws are quite numerous rather than highly limited and correctable as suggested by Superintendent John White. But that's on top of the false assumption upon which VAM is based. There is a new slogan going around in Louisiana educator circles. It is stated simply: “White lies”.