Monday, December 3, 2012

Another UTLA Sell-Out on VAM

Most people would argue that teachers should be evaluated based on how well they teach and help their students to grow academically. The problem is that there is no accurate or consistent method of measuring the teacher impact on student academic growth. High stakes state and NCLB tests are particularly ill-suited for this.

Nevertheless, a growing number of school districts across the nation are either imposing Value-Added Measures (VAM) of teacher “effectiveness” on their teaching staffs, or forcing them to accept student test scores as part of their evaluations in exchange for other concessions like raises and maintaining benefits. VAM, which attempts to calculate teachers’ impact on their students’ improvement on standardized tests, has been shown to be inaccurate and unreliable (see here, here and here).

Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has been under court order to reform its evaluation system. The ruling by Judge James Chalfant mandated that LAUSD comply with the state’s Stull Act, which requires that some measures of student academic progress be factored into the evaluations, though the law does not specify what kind of student data must be used. This has led to a protracted battle with United Teacher of Los Angeles (UTLA) over what kind of data will be used and to what extent.

Last Friday, the two sides came to an agreement on a new evaluation system that will include student test data. The evaluations will use both local and state standardized test scores, but there is no agreement yet on how much the test scores will count toward teachers’ evaluations. Superintendent John Deasy hailed the agreement as a victory for labor-management collaboration, while UTLA President Warren Fletcher was simply grateful the accord didn’t give LAUSD more than it did, according to John Fensterwald, writing for Ed Source. The agreement must still be approved by the school board and ratified by the UTLA membership.

Deasy had been pushing for a method called Academic Growth Over Time (AGT), a type of VAM that supposedly controls for external factors like students’ past test results and background. UTLA rightly opposed AGT as unsound, which it is. The agreement does not permit the AGT scores of individuals to be used in their evaluations, though school-level AGT can be used as one of several factors. Additionally, individual AGT scores will become part of teachers’ confidential personnel files, no longer accessible to the public or the press.

While this latter stipulation could be spun as a win for teachers, the fact that student test data is being used to evaluate teachers at all should be seen as a serious blow to both students and teachers. The use of student test data to evaluate teachers is terrible for students precisely because it does nothing to improve teacher quality, while potentially forcing many good teachers out of the profession because of its unreliability and inconsistency. Furthermore, it encourages the continued use of high stakes standardized exams, which take away class time from real learning, encourage teaching to the test, and unnecessarily increase the stress and anxiety children already face at school.

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