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VAMboozled!: The Center for American “Progress:” Really?!?

The American Statistical Association recently released a position statement on VAMs–a statement that really should/could serve as one of a few “nail in the coffin” reports on VAMs. Others, however, continue to move forward with VAMS despite this position statement and all of its surrounding research.

That being said, the newest member to promote and push VAMs? The Center for American Progress.

As per their website, “The Center for American Progress is an independent nonpartisan educational institute dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through progressive ideas and action. Building on the achievements of progressive pioneers such as Teddy Roosevelt and Martin Luther King, our work addresses 21st-century challenges such as energy, national security, economic growth and opportunity, immigration, education, and health care. We develop new policy ideas, critique the policy that stems from conservative values, challenge the media to cover the issues that truly matter, and shape the national debate.”

Progressive? Pioneering?? Advancing “new” policy ideas??? Not so fast!!

According to a report they just released, here is exactly the progressive and pioneering policy ideas that they are advancing, summarized here specifically in terms of VAMs.

They write: “[W]e know much more about the impact of high-quality teaching on student achievement” citing in their PDF their take on a bunch of “research” studies that, on this and other points throughout the paper, are based almost entirely on the mainly technical reports written by the US Department of Education, William Sanders (the developer of the EVAAS system), Doug Harris (a “cautious” but quite active proponent of VAMs), and Eric Hanushek (whose economic research is almost always cited when policy wonks are interested in advancing VAMs).

Their research is notably a small subset of the actual research out there on VAMs, research that was used to rightfully construct the aforementioned position statement released by the ASA, and research that for decades has evidenced that teachers account for, or can be credited for, approximately 10% of the variance in student test scores, while the other 90% is typically due to factors outside of teachers’ control.

Regardless, while the Center for American Progress briefly acknowledges this, they spin this into their solution: The reason this percentage is so low is because we have not yet been accounting for growth in student achievement over time; that is, via value-added models (VAMs). In other words, using more sophisticated models of measurements (i.e., VAMs) will help to illuminate the “real” results we know are out there, but simply have not been able to capture given our archaic models of measurement and teacher accountability.

Not to worry, though, as they write that these “[n]ew measures of teacher effectiveness, determined by evidence of teacher practice and improvements in student achievement, are now available [emphasis added] and provide strong markers for assessing teaching quality and the equitable distribution of the most capable teachers.”

Yes, they are now available, but they have been both available and in use, particularly in the state of Tennessee, the state in which “the best” VAM has been available and in use since the early 1990s. Yet the state of Tennessee still has not evidenced much of anything, especially as per the intended consequences for which their (best) VAM has been tasked for more than two decades to do, at a hefty price of $1.7 million per year I might add. See a recent summary about this here.

Regardless, and despite the evidence, or lack thereof, “Current federal education policy [also] reflects this new [emphasis added] understanding [given] its accompanying [policy] changes.”

Really? No seriously, really!?!

It goes on: “This is an opportunity to reset the old and align with the new. It is now possible to address concerns about teacher quality in broader, more creative ways that incorporate thoughtful approaches to prepare teachers and school leaders to successfully support learning for all students; hire and recruit the best future educators based on evidence of their performance; reward and retain the best teachers we have in place; create work environments capable of supporting and sustaining a well-prepared and effective teacher workforce; and address the structural causes of inequitable teacher distribution embedded in how we fund and staff our schools. It is time to jettison policies that act as barriers to staffing and compensating the most effective teachers for the most challenging schools and working assignments.”

And it goes on, including recommendations for attaching consequential decisions to VAM estimates…Read more, or not.

Unfortunately, this reminds me of the Saturday Night Live skit, “REALLY?!?” with Seth and Amy that has has repeatedly given viewers a “hilarious, sarcastic look” at some of the biggest issues in American news. Unfortunately, this skit is not nearly as comedic or laughable.

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Audrey Amrein-Beardsley

Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, a former middle- and high-school mathematics teacher, received her Ph.D. in 2002 from Arizona State University (ASU) from the Division of...