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VAM Scores Raise Concerns, Criticisms and Questions on Teacher Effectiveness

February 23, 2014 - 6:00pm

Reports on teacher effectiveness in the Sunshine State were released Monday after the Florida Education Association lost a lawsuit with the Florida Times-Union. The Jacksonville-based newspaper wantedthe department to release the records so the public could determine the quality of Floridas teachers.

The Florida Department of Educations value-added model -- or VAM system -- is a metric which measures public school teachers individual value to student progress throughout the year. As a result of the lawsuit, Florida parents are now able to see exactly how the system works in assessing the state's teachers.

The VAM system uses a formula that takes students scores on reading and math tests to evaluate teacher contributions or value added that a teacher provides each year. The model tries to predict how each student will improve year over year using this formula.

School districts have been receiving VAM data since 2011 and the data can reflect student test score growth from one, two or three academic years.

VAM scores can be important for teachers -- districts use them for 40 percent to 50 percent of teachers annual evaluations, which can ultimately decide whether a teacher keeps his/her job or gets the boot.

According to a Times-Union analysis of the data, the report showed about 58 percent of school districts last year saw most of their teachers receive aggregated scores below statewide averages.

Their analysis also found the majority of teachers in Northeast Florida school districts were scored above the average and seven of the 10 schools with the highest VAM scores were located in Miami-Dade County.

In a letter to teachers, Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart warned that the information and individual teacher names could be publicly posted by media outlets, but also said the department does not intend to post the teacher information on its website. Instead, the DOE will only provide the data to parties to the lawsuit and those making public-record requests for the information.

The score release has brought a wave of controversy and criticism from the Florida Education Association, whose members took to Twitter on Monday to voice their concerns over the data.

The VAM data is an expensive boondoggle that is taking money from the classroom, FEA tweeted, calling the data worthless.

It is ludicrous to try to determine the value of a teacher using a formula that is comprehensible only to a small number of statisticians, the FEA wrote in its talking points for union leaders. With the problems that the DOE has been having with data on testing and school grades, we have little confidence in these complex figures used to determine a teachers evaluation.

In a call Monday, the DOEs chief of staff Kathy Hebda explained that VAM scores were only part of teacher evaluations.

Looking at this information in isolation can lead to misunderstandings about a teacher's overall performance, she said.

The FEA also criticized the scores because they rely on reading, math and algebra 1 scores for students, noting that some teachers who teach other subjects (like biology and chemistry) are scored based on classes they dont even teach.

The numbers, they say, are not to be trusted.

Parents, teachers and the public dont trust the ever-changing numbers coming from DOE with regard to testing and school grading, said the FEA. Why should they trust the more complex figures coming from the same department as it relates to the evaluations of more than 180,000 Florida public school teachers?

The department has promised that changes are on the way, with some state rules giving districts more leeway to choose how theyll measure student growth for teachers who teach subjects not tested under the FCAT.

But once the state says goodbye to the FCAT, its uncertain what the effect will be on the states VAM scores. Florida is preparing to transition into the Florida Standards (based off of the Common Core State Standards) by the 2014-2015 school year, and its unclear what effect the new assessment test will have on Floridas VAM scores.

Sunshine State News will have the full report on individual grades at a later date.

Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen atAllison@sunshinestatenews.comor follow her on Twitter at @AllisonNielsen.

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