Thursday, December 18, 2014

Time to Shelve VAM Permanently!

The Act 240 subcommittee is scheduled to meet again on January 5. This is the special subcommittee of the Accountability Commission that was formed to review and make recommendations for improvements to the Louisiana teacher evaluation system.

Although it is now suspended, the Value Added Model (VAM) was supposed to make up 50% of a teacher’s evaluation. So, for teachers of state tested grades and subjects the complex formula that predicted the composite academic growth of each classroom of students had a huge impact on such teachers’ annual evaluations. The impact of VAM on about a third of the teachers statewide was magnified by the override rule, which was a provision in BESE policy that allowed an ineffective rating on either VAM or the principal’s evaluation to override the other component and declare a teacher “ineffective”. 

The override rule, which was never part of the original Act 54 law, when combined with VAM could be deadly to many good teachers’ careers. The VAM formula it turns out, was so erratic and capricious in its rating of some teachers that it became obvious that it should not be used to override a principal’s evaluation.  

Some members of the Act 240 subcommittee including Representative Hoffman who originally sponsored the Act 54 legislation have indicated that they would like to do away with the override rule.

In addition to removing the override rule, some members of the subcommittee have suggested that the VAM component should be reduced in its impact on the final evaluation from 50% to some lesser percentage. But if the VAM is so inaccurate, so unstable, and so potentially destructive of a good teacher’s career, then it should be done away with altogether!  Several members of the Act 240 subcommittee including teacher union leaders Debbie Meaux and Steve Monaghan have suggested that VAM should be totally removed from the teacher evaluation system.

VAM has been used as part of the evaluation system for only one year (the 2012-13 school year). According to LDOE policy, 20% of the teachers evaluated by VAM received a highly effective rating on that part of their evaluation and some received a highly effective overall because of the VAM. But if you think VAM was unstable when applied using the old LEAP and iLEAP tests, wait until you see the results with the new Common Core/PARCC aligned testing! Just because a teacher got a "highly effective" VAM in the old system is no guarantee that it will happen again under the new system. In fact it is quite possible for a teacher who received a highly effective on VAM in one year to get an ineffective on VAM the next year. That one ineffective punishes the teacher by canceling his/her tenure and placing him/her on a remediation plan. This is harsh treatment and it may be completely inappropriate.

This is no way to run a railroad and no way to make decisions relative to teacher’s careers.

I am suggesting that teachers and principals consider sending an email to Act 240 Committee chair, Mr Bret Duncan at,  and requesting that the subcommittee recommend doing away with the override provision but also with VAM altogether until a formula or system can be found that is fair and reliable.