Education Reform Whack-a-Mole

The education “reform” movement of the United States has roots going as far back as school desegregation and busing in the 1960s and the increase in numbers of private schools that resulted and, to a lesser degree, from the rise of the home-schooling movement.  Both of these drew students from the public schools, primarily students who would have been toward the top of their classes. After all, the home environment (especially income) is the best predictor of student success. Take away students from the top of the income pyramid, and schools, measured by standardized testing, are going to get worse. That is, the tests scores are going to go down even if the schools remain just as good or even get better. It became easy to show that American public schools were getting worse–even when that was never the reality.

This morning, someone on Facebook linked to a two-year-old article by David Sirota on Salon. Unfortunately, little in the landscape of American education has changed since it appeared in 2013. Reformers still believe that things like the Value-Added Model (VAM) for evaluating teachers can turn around a “trend” that not only has no reality within our schools but that has not been the fault of teachers. Yet New York State, among others, continues to insist on VAM for teacher evaluation. Valerie Strauss, of the Washington Post‘s Answer Sheet, writes:

A focus of the Obama administration’s education reform effort has been the remaking of teacher evaluation systems to include student standardized test scores. States that wanted to receive federal funding in President Obama’s $4.3 billion Race to the Top education funding contest had to commit to linking test scores to teacher evaluation, and the same was true for those states that wanted to receive a federal waiver from the most onerous parts of No Child Left Behind. Most states wound up passing laws linking scores to evaluation, even though assessment experts — including the American Statistical Association — have warned against the “value-added measurement” method being used to make that linkage.

Yet VAM keeps coming, popping up again and again as part of reform packages.

These approaches to teacher assessment are relatively new—major school systems like New York, Chicago, and the District of Columbia started deploying VAM at the beginning of the decade, and now more than half the states use some form of it—that has been rife with controversy from the beginning. While classroom observations do play a role in a teacher’s overall score, one recurring complaint is that, because these metrics hinge so much on test-score growth, students scoring high one year may leave little room for improvement the next year, which could hurt their teachers’ ratings. These evaluations often measure students’ predicted test scores against their actual scores, which can lead to some lopsided results

VAM is alive in New York State even as it is forced down in Seattle:

One of the major victories of the Seattle Education Association was that it reached agreement with the district to eliminate VAM. Henceforth, teachers will not be judged by the test scores of their students. Ding, dong, the fake metric of teacher evaluation is dead! At least in Seattle.

Though the education-reform movement may have ‘jumped the shark‘ two years ago, it is far from dead–as the continued pressure to use VAM attests.

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