VAMboozled!: New Mexico Teacher Evaluation Lawsuit Updates

In December of 2015 in New Mexico, via a preliminary injunction set forth by state District Judge David K. Thomson, all consequences attached to teacher-level value-added model (VAM) scores (e.g., flagging the files of teachers with low VAM scores) were suspended throughout the state until the state (and/or others external to the state) could prove to the state court that the system was reliable, valid, fair, uniform, and the like. The trial during which this evidence is to be presented by the state is currently set for this October. See more information about this ruling here.

As the expert witness for the plaintiffs in this case, I was deposed a few weeks ago here in Phoenix, given my analyses of the state’s data (supported by one of my PhD students – Tray Geiger). In short, we found and I testified during the deposition that:

  • In terms of uniformity and fairness, there seem to be 70% or so of New Mexico teachers who are ineligible to be assessed using VAMs, and this proportion held constant across the years of data analyzed. This is even more important to note knowing that when VAM-based data are to be used to make consequential decisions about teachers, issues with fairness and uniformity become even more important given accountability-eligible teachers are also those who are relatively more likely to realize the negative or reap the positive consequences attached to VAM-based estimates.
  • In terms of reliability (or the consistency of teachers’ VAM-based scores over time), approximately 40% of teachers differed by one quintile (quintiles are derived when a sample or population is divided into fifths) and approximately 28% of teachers differed, from year-to-year, by two or more quintiles in terms of their VAM-derived effectiveness ratings. These results make sense when New Mexico’s results are situated within the current literature, whereas teachers classified as “effective” one year can have a 25%-59% chance of being classified as “ineffective” the next, or vice versa, with other permutations also possible.
  • In terms of validity (i.e., concurrent related evidence of validity), and importantly as also situated within the current literature, the correlations between New Mexico teachers’ VAM-based and observational scores ranged from r = 0.153 to r = 0.210. Not only are these correlations very weak[1], they are also very weak as appropriately situated within the literature, via which it is evidenced that correlations between multiple VAMs and observational scores typically range from 0.30 ≤ r ≤ 0.50.
  • In terms of bias, New Mexico’s Caucasian teachers had significantly higher observation scores than non-Caucasian teachers implying, also as per the current research, that Caucasian teachers may be (falsely) perceived as being better teachers than non-Caucasians teachers given bias within these instruments and/or bias of the scorers observing and scoring teachers using these instruments in practice. See prior posts about observational-based bias herehere and here.
  • Also of note in terms of bias was that: (1) teachers with fewer years of experience yielded VAM scores that were significantly lower than teachers with more years of experience, with similar patterns noted across teachers’ observation scores, which could all mean, as also in line with common sense as well as the research, that teachers with more experience are typically better teachers; (2) teachers who taught English language learners (ELLs) or special education students had lower VAM scores across the board than those who did not teach such students; (3) teachers who taught gifted students had significantly higher VAM scores than non-gifted teachers which runs counter to the current research evidencing that teachers’ gifted students oft-thwart or prevent them from demonstrating growth given ceiling effects; (4) teachers in schools with lower relative proportions of ELLs, special education students, students eligible for free-or-reduced lunches, and students from racial minority backgrounds, as well as higher relative proportions of gifted students, consistently had significantly higher VAM scores. These results suggest that teachers in these schools are as a group better, and/or that VAM-based estimates might be biased against teachers not teaching in these schools, preventing them from demonstrating comparable growth.

To read more about the data and methods used, as well as other findings, please see my affidavit submitted to the court attached here: Affidavit Feb2018.

Although, also in terms of a recent update, I should also note that a few weeks ago, as per an article in the AlbuquerqueJournal, New Mexico’s teacher evaluation systems is now likely to be overhauled, or simply “expired” as early as 2019. In short, “all three Democrats running for governor and the lone Republican candidate…have expressed misgivings about using students’ standardized test scores to evaluate the effectiveness of [New Mexico’s] teachers, a key component of the current system [at issue in this lawsuit and] imposed by the administration of outgoing Gov. Susana Martinez.” All four candidates described the current system “as fundamentally flawed and said they would move quickly to overhaul it.”

While I/we will proceed our efforts pertaining to this lawsuit until further notice, this is also important to note at this time in that it seems that New Mexico’s policymakers of new are going to be much wiser than those of late, at least in these regards.

[1] Interpreting r: 0.8 ≤ r ≤ 1.0 = a very strong correlation; 0.6 ≤ r ≤ 0.8 = a strong correlation; 0.4 ≤ r ≤ 0.6 = a moderate correlation; 0.2 ≤ r ≤ 0.4 = a weak correlation; and 0.0 ≤ r ≤ 0.2 = a very weak correlation, if any at all.

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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 in the Division of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies with an emphasis on Research Methods. Awarded tenure in 2010 as an ASU Presidential Exemplar, she is currently an Associate Professor in the...