A VAM Sham(e): Bill Sanders to Receive Distinguished Award for VAM/EVAAS Efforts

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VAMs were first adopted in education in the late 1980s, when an agricultural statistician/adjunct professor [emphasis added, as an adjunct professor is substantively different than a tenured/tenure-track professor] at the University of Knoxville, Tennessee – William Sanders – thought that educators struggling with student achievement in the state should “simply” use more advanced statistics, similar to those used when modeling genetic and reproductive trends among cattle, to measure growth, hold teachers accountable for that growth, and solve the educational measurement woes facing the state at the time by doing so. It was to be as simple as that….

Hence, Sanders developed the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS), which is now known as the Education Value-Added Assessment System (EVAAS®), in response.

Nowadays, the SAS® EVAAS® is widely considered, with over 20 years of development, the largest, one of the best, one of the most widely adopted and used, and likely the most controversial VAM in the country. It is controversial in that it is a proprietary model (i.e., it is costly and used/marketed under exclusive legal rights of the inventors/operators), and it is often akin to a “black box” model (i.e., it is protected by a good deal of secrecy/mystery).

Not surprisingly, Tennessee was one of the first states to receive Race to the Top funds to the tune of $502 million, to further advance the SAS® EVAAS® model, still referred to as the TVAAS, however, in the state of Tennessee. See prior posts about Sanders efforts, in Tennessee and beyond here, here, here, here, and here.

Nonetheless, on the SAS® EVAAS® website developers continue to make grandiose marketing claims without much caution or really any research evidence in support (e.g., using the SAS® EVAAS® will provide “a clear path to achieve the US goal to lead the world in college completion by the year 2020″). Riding on such claims, EVAAS backers  continue to sell their SAS® EVAAS® model to states (e.g., Tennessee, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania) and school districts (e.g., the Houston Independent School District), at a significant amount (as in millions) of taxpayers’ revenues.

As per the news today, released by Chalkbeat Tennessee, “TVAAS creator William Sanders [is] to receive [a] national education award,” as in, the 2015 James Bryant Conant Award, one of the nation’s most prestigious education honors, awarded by the Education Commission of the States (ECS). “The James Bryant Conant Award recognizes an individual for outstanding contributions to American education. The award is one of the most prestigious honors in the education community…The honor is bestowed upon individuals who have demonstrated a commitment to improving education across the country in significant ways,” etc.

More specifically, Sanders is to be honored for his “national leader[ship] in value-added assessments, [as] his work has [informed] key policy discussion[s] in states across the nation.” Indeed his work has informed key policy discussions across the nation, not for the better, however, as literally no peer-reviewed research suggests that his value-added efforts have improved student learning and achievement across the nation’s public schools whatsoever, but I digress…

As per the article: “Hailed by many who seek greater accountability in education, [Sanders’s] TVAAS continues to be a topic of robust discussion in the education community in Tennessee and across the nation. It has been the source of numerous federal lawsuits filed by teachers who charge that the evaluation system—which has been tied to teacher pay and tenure—is unfair and doesn’t take into account student socio-economic variables such as growing up in poverty. Sanders maintains that teacher effectiveness dwarfs all other factors as a predictor of student academic growth.

“With regard to student academic progress,” Sanders said, “the effectiveness of adults within buildings is more important than the mailing addresses of their students.” This is false, but again, I digress…

On this note, see three recent research articles about the EVAAS and its use in practice here, here, and here. These articles contradict most, if not a strong majority of the claims advanced by model advocates and promoters…advanced, again, largely without researcher evidence in support.

Sanders, now 73, is retired and still lives in Tennessee. He is to receive the award during the ECS’s national forum on educational policy in Denver on June 29-July 1.

Calling all picketers/protesters?

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