I recently read an article in the Washington Post that dealt with a commonly used method for evaluating teachers these days known as Value-Added Measures or Value-Added Modeling (a.k.a VAM), a statistical model that produces a score for the teacher that supposedly measures the teacher’s impact or contribution on their student’s growth in learning. The article highlights criticism of VAM used in teacher evaluations (specifically in the areas of special education and co-teaching) because it is so heavily weighted on standardized tests.
Furthermore, using VAM to evaluate teachers has come under heavy criticism for not being scientifically validated and because many of the conditions that contribute to test scores are beyond the individual teacher’s control. I am a firm opponent to standardized testing, especially with its dominating presence in public education. I am not against testing as a measuring tool when used correctly by individual classroom teachers. And VAM might have some relevance when it isn’t so heavily tied to test scores and when it isn’t the sole determinant of a teacher’s fate in their profession.
But wherever value is to be added, you can find large corporations ready to jump in and make a profit by providing us with what we “need.” In the case of education, the tests associated with VAM aren’t created by the teacher. They aren’t created by the school. They aren’t created by the Board of Education. They are a product created by profiteering companies like Pearson, who currently has a $32 million contract to provide tests to New York State public schools.
For other great perspectives on VAM use in schools check out the site, Great Schools for America.
The above video outlines the cold separation from the human element. With the push to be data-driven and hold everyone accountable in such a ridiculous manner, I see the natural dichotomy of teaching and learning stripped away. The appreciation for diversity is disappearing. The curriculum, the teachers, and the students are being manipulated like products on an assembly line, massed produced and brought to market. And this is unhealthy!
Let me sidetrack for a minute and talk about Value-Added in another context. (I have a non-sleeping 13 month old so you can attribute my connections here to either long wakeful hours giving me time to think, or to simply being overtired–I’ll leave that up to you, but bear with me for a moment.) 🙂
In economics Value-Added refers to the “extra” features of a product used to increase its market value, in other words how much it is processed. Let’s look at raw iron ore as a clear illustration. It doesn’t matter what the exact market value of iron ore is right now, but let’s process it and turn it into iron. Now it’s worth a bit more. Let’s take that iron and turn it into steel. Yes, more market value. Ok, now take that steel and create something– a specific product like a car for example. That car costs substantially more than the original iron ore taken from the ground. It makes sense, doesn’t it? A company had to invest time and resources to develop that product and turn it into something useful. We expect to pay more for it. Most of us don’t have much use for raw iron ore, but the car, that’s something most of us consider a necessity.
For me Value-Added has more negative connotations. In many cases, education included, it seems to be about taking a diversity of raw materials, which are inherently healthy, harmless and good, and turning them into something that we do not need! Let’s look at an example where the concept of Value-Added is a bit more dubious. Before the growing of corn became a monoculture of the most profitable (and least healthy) variety, corn was a diverse grain, grown locally by many indigenous cultures to nourish their people. But profit-seeking companies are not interested in nourishing people. And so begins the campaign of convincing the people that the new Value-Added products are better for us. Corn provides an entire litany of Value-Added products, including the most infamous nowadays: high-fructose corn syrup, a cheap source of sugar found in many of the highly processed prepackaged food products in the supermarket. And the outcome in human health has been disastrous with soaring rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other health issues. You are what you eat in some respects.
Most of the Value-Added products on the shelves are unnecessary & completely adulterated items–void of nutrition, locally irrelevant, morally irresponsible, and completely overpriced.
It’s all about moderation, right? The same goes for education. Tests used by teachers to evaluate their students can be a useful tool. I see this as a local product with very little adulteration. Accountability can also be accomplished at the local level without the outside interference from companies that seek only to make a profit. They don’t care about “nourishing” the minds of our children. Treating education as a market is creating equally useless products–void of diversity, void of creativity, void of motivation, void of anything that isn’t data-driven.
So how about we keep VAM at the local level where people care about each other. Where we can actually see growth in learning occurring naturally, where we know our teachers and administrators, where things are transparent, and where a symbiotic relationship between all elements in the system is allowed to exist. Having VAM in the hands of bureaucrats and corporate kingpins is a bad idea. I believe that teachers entered their field with inherently good intentions; They want to do a good job; It isn’t their intention to be horrible teachers. To be sure, there are bad teachers out there and there are teachers who just need the support of their colleagues and administrations to be able to do a better job. Pearson VAM won’t get them there. Let’s keep things local. Like my food, I want to know where my (children’s) education is coming from. Then I’ll know who to talk to if I happen to notice any problems. And we can avoid yet another overpriced and useless product that we DO NOT NEED.