Friday, March 16, 2018

VAM; the Tar Baby Stuck to Louisiana Education

Governor Edwards supports a bill that would reduce the impact of VAM on teacher evaluations. VAM is turning out to be a tar baby stuck to the teaching profession in Louisiana. That tar baby is nasty and damages education, but the more we struggle the more it sticks to our evaluation system.

VAM stands for "Value Added Measures" and attempts to base a teacher's evaluation partially on the growth of student test scores over a span of several years.

The following is a statement by The American Statistical Association on the minimal relationship of VAM on student test scores:

"VAM should be viewed within the context of quality improvement, which distinguishes aspects of quality that can be attributed to the system from those that can be attributed to individual teachers, teacher preparation programs, or schools. Most VAM studies find that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, and that the majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in the system-level conditions. Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality."

Only 1 to 14% of the variation in student test scores can be attributed to the teacher!
House Bill 651 by Representative Frank Hoffman is an attempt to adjust the weight of a teacher’s VAM score closer to the actual value of VAM in rating teacher effectiveness. It reduces the portion of a teacher’s evaluation based on her/his VAM score to 15%. This is still a greater weight than would be indicated by the actual effect of VAM on the variation of student test performance. For the present school year, a teacher's VAM rating would comprise 35% of a teacher's evaluation.

Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality."
Louisiana has used VAM for only one year as 50% of a teacher’s evaluation. The results were a disaster. Some of the best teachers got the worst evaluations and vice versa. To make matters worse, Louisiana based higher pay on the flawed evaluation system. VAM is also a major factor in the likelihood that a teacher will be granted tenure. Rep Hoffman has another bill (HB 587) that would change the evaluation criteria qualifying a teacher to receive tenure. Other states such as Colorado using VAM as 50% of a teacher’s evaluation have also found that VAM is a very poor way to evaluate teachers.

The use of VAM has been suspended for the past 4 years for the evaluation of Louisiana teachers. But because the Louisiana Association of Buisiness and Industry (LABI) insisted that VAM should continue to be used, VAM is scheduled to go back into effect starting with the present school year at a weight of 35%. This flawed system should have been scrapped altogether, but LABI wants to continue it because the organization leaders refuse to admit that they were wrong.

Another problem with using VAM is that teachers who teach in non-tested areas have a big advantage in getting higher evaluation ratings and in qualifying for merit pay, AND TENURE. So why would anyone want to continue a system that discourages teacher’s from teaching the most basic subjects? Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality."

Representative Hoffman’s bill is obviously an attempt to at least lessen the damage that will be caused by this ill conceived plan. A better plan would be to junk VAM altogether. But politics require that LABI bosses be appeased by punishing the teaching profession in some way. Does anyone wonder why fewer and fewer young professionals are choosing to become teachers? Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality." Local school administrators and John White (the guy who implemented VAM), are now scrambling to deal with a growing teacher shortage.