A Florida Media Arts Teacher on Her “VAM” Score

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A Media Arts Teacher from the state of Florida wrote a piece for The Washington Post – The Answer Sheet by Valerie Strauss about her VAM score recently publicly released, even though she is a media arts teacher and does not teach the subject areas and many of the students tested and whose test scores are being used to hold her accountable.

Bizarre, right? Not really, as this too is a reality facing many teachers who teach out-of-subject areas, or more specifically subject areas that “don’t count,” and who teach students sometimes a lot yet sometimes never. They are being assigned “school-level” VAM scores, and these estimates regardless of their actual contributions are being used to make consequential decisions (e.g., in this case, about her merit pay).

She writes about “What it feels like to be evaluated on test scores of students I don’t have,” noting, more specifically, about what others “need to know about [her] VAM score.” For one, she writes, “As a media specialist, [her] VAM is determined by the reading scores of all the students in [her] school, whether or not [she] teach[es] them. [Her] support of the other academic areas is not reflected in this number.” Secondly, she writes, “Like most teachers, [she has] no idea what [her] score means. [She] know[s] that [her] VAM is related to school-wide reading scores but [she] do[es]n’t understand how it’s calculated or exactly what data is [sic] used. This number does not give [her] feedback about what [she] did for [her] students to support their academic achievement last year or how to improve [her] instruction going forward.” She also writes about issues with her school being evaluated differently from the state system given they are involved in a Gates Foundation grant, and she writes about her concerns about the lack of consistency in teacher-level scores over time, as based on her knowledge of the research. See the full article linked again here to read more.

Otherwise, she concludes with what a very real question, also being faced by many. She writes, “[W]hy do I even care about my VAM score? Because it counts. My VAM score is a factor in determining if I am eligible for a merit pay bonus, whether I have a job in the next few years, and how many times I’ll be evaluated this year.” Of course, she cares as she and many others are being forced to care about their professional livelihoods out from under a system that is out of her control, out of thousands of teachers’ control, and in so many ways just simply out of control.

See also what she has to offer in terms of what she frames as a much better evaluation system, that would really take into account her effectiveness and the numbers that are certainly much more indicative of her as a teacher. These are the numbers, if we continue to fixate on the quantification of effectiveness, that in all actuality should count.



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