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VAMboozled!: ACT Also Finds but Discourages States’ Decreased Use of VAMs Post-ESSA

Last June (2018), I released a blog post covering three key findings from a study that I along with two others conducted on states’ revised teacher evaluation systems post the passage of the federal government’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA; see the full study here). In short, we evidenced that (1) the role of growth or value-added models (VAMs) for teacher evaluation purposes is declining across states, (2) many states are embracing the increased local control afforded them via ESSA and no longer have one-size-fits-all teacher evaluation systems, and (3) the rhetoric surrounding teacher evaluation has changed (e.g., language about holding teachers accountable is increasingly less evident than language about teachers’ professional development and support).

Last week, a similar study was released by the ACT standardized testing company. As per the title of this report (see the full report here), they too found that there is a “Shrinking Use of Growth” across states’ “Teacher Evaluation Legislation since ESSA.” They also found that for some states there was a “complete removal” of the state’s teacher evaluation system (e.g., Maine, Washington), a postponement of the state’s teacher evaluation systems until further notice (e.g., Connecticut, Indiana, Tennessee) or a complete prohibition of the use of students’ standardized tests in any teachers’ evaluations moving forward (e.g., Connecticut, Idaho). Otherwise, as we also found, states are increasingly “allowing districts, rather than the state, to determine their evaluation frameworks” themselves.

Unlike in our study, however, ACT (perhaps not surprisingly as a standardized testing company that also advertises its tests’ value-added capacities; see, for example, here) cautions states against “the complete elimination of student growth as part of teacher evaluation systems” in that they have “clearly” (without citations in support) proven “their value and potential value.” Hence, ACT defines this as “a step backward.” In our aforementioned study and blog post we reviewed some of the actual evidence (with citations in support) and would, accordingly, contest all-day-long that these systems have a “clear” “proven” “value.” Hence, we (also perhaps not surprisingly) called our similar findings as “steps in the right direction.”

Regardless, in in all fairness, they recommend that states not “respond to the challenges of using growth measures in evaluation systems by eliminating their use” but “first consider less drastic measures such as:

  • postponing the use of student growth for employment decisions while refinements to the system can be made;
  • carrying out special studies to better understand the growth model; and/or
  • reviewing evaluation requirements for teachers who teach in untested grades and subjects so that the measures used more accurately reflect their performance.

“Pursuing such refinements, rather than reversing efforts to make teacher evaluation more meaningful and reflective of performance, is the best first step toward improving states’ evaluation systems.”

Citation: Croft, M., Guffy, G., & Vitale, D. (2018). The shrinking use of growth: Teacher evaluation legislation since ESSA. Iowa City, IA: ACT. Retrieved from

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The views expressed by the blogger are not necessarily those of NEPC.