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VAM: A Fruitless Search

November 1, 2014

Thomas Kane is a true believer in Value Added Measures, and his article in EducationNext is persuasive on its surface but it glosses over three obstacles that VAM proponents tend to ignore…. obstacles that make the use of VAM costly, impractical, and, perhaps, impossible. Those obstacles are outlined below:

Schools would be required to substantially alter their grouping practices and/or test protocols in order to use to use “value added” assessments in a fashion that conforms with research models

Almost all the value added research has taken place in urban schools or county school districts where there are large grade-level cohorts, a common curriculum, common instructional practices, and comparable demographics. In these studies, researchers carefully controlled the grouping of students, the way tests were administered, and the nature of the tests. In order to replicate these research conditions in other districts, particularly the large number of small school districts across the country, elementary schools would need to make certain that:

  • Teachers are assigned to comparable cohorts of students over a three year period (i.e. the same grade level, the same blend of regular and special education students, and same ability level IF ability level is the grouping practice)
  • The student cohorts remain constant
  • Assessments used to measure teacher performance are designed specifically for that purpose
  • The assessments are administered in a pre-test/post test fashion instead of once annually

At the secondary level, where students typically have 4-7 teachers per day, it is difficult to imagine how any value-added measure could be used without dramatically expanding the tests administered at each grade level.

The performance of a large number of teachers cannot be measured using existing assessments

Teachers at all grade levels who do not teach specific content that is not systematically assessed at the State level (i.e. Art, Music, PE, Guidance, Special Ed, Technology Education, etc) and secondary teachers whose content is not systematically assessed at the state level (currently all subject areas except English, Mathematics and Science) could not be measured be using the testing protocols in place. Moreover, given that assessments are administered at only one grade level in high schools, it is hard to envision how longitudinal information on student performance will be gathered. In summary, since state level tests are not in place for what is arguably a majority of teachers, any system linking student performance with teacher compensation is inherently inequitable.

It is unclear whether the new PARCC and SBAM assessments are specifically designed to generate “value added” measures

As written and designed, he forthcoming computerized tests may not yield individual student data with the kind of detail needed to measure improvement in individual students over time. This is particularly true in high-performing districts where the “headroom” is insufficient, making it impossible to measure “gains” of any kind.

BOTTOM LINE: If districts across the country were required to use the new computerized tests to implement value added measures for ALL teachers it would require several years. Each State would be required to develop new assessments for those content areas not covered by existing tests, field test those assessments, and implement them for multiple years before receiving the results needed to make any meaningful decisions on teacher performance. All of this assumes it is possible to design such an assessment for small rural schools and assumes assessments can be designed and implemented for secondary teachers and K-12 teachers in specialized subjects.

VAM will not work without huge outlays of money… and those funds would be better spent helping students who are living in poverty.

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