Consumer Alert: Researchers in New Study Find “Surprisingly Weak” Correlations among VAMs and Other Teacher Quality Indicators

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Two weeks ago, an article in the U.S. News and World Report (as well as similar articles in Education Week and linked to from the homepage of the American Educational Research Association [AERA]) highlighted the results of a recent research conducted by University of Southern California’s Morgan Polikoff and University of Pennsylvania’s Andrew Porter. The research article was released online here, in the AERA-based, peer-reviewed, and highly esteemed journal: Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis.
As per the study’s abstract, the researchers found (to which their peer-reviewers apparently agreed) that the extent to which teachers’ instructional alignment was associated with their contributions to student learning and their effectiveness on VAMs, using data from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) study, were “surprisingly weak,” or as per the aforementioned U.S. News and World Report article, “weak to nonexistent.”
Researchers, specifically, analyzed the (co)relationships among VAM estimates and observational data, student survey data, and other data pertaining to whether teachers aligned their instruction with state standards. They did this using data taken from 327 fourth and eighth grade math and English teachers in six school districts, again as derived via the aforementioned MET study.
Researchers concluded that “there were few if any correlations that large [i.e., greater than r = 0.3] between any of the indicators of pedagogical quality and the VAM scores. Nor were there many correlations of that magnitude in the main MET study. Simply put, the correlations of value-added with observational measures of pedagogical quality, student survey measures, and instructional alignment were small” (Polikoff & Porter, 2014, p. 13).
Interestingly enough, the research I recently conducted with my current doctoral student (see Paufler & Amrein-Beardsley, here), was used to supplement these researchers’ findings. In Education Week, the articles’ author, Holly Yettick, wrote the following:
In addition to raising questions about the sometimes weak correlations between value-added assessments and other teacher-evaluation methods, researchers continue to assess how the models are created, interpreted, and used.
In a study that appears in the current issue of the American Educational Research Journal, Noelle A. Paufler and Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, a doctoral candidate and an associate professor at Arizona State University, respectively, conclude that elementary school students are not randomly distributed into classrooms. That finding is significant because random distribution of students is a technical assumption that underlies some value-added models.
Even when value-added models do account for nonrandom classroom assignment, they typically fail to consider behavior, personality, and other factors that profoundly influenced the classroom-assignment decisions of the 378 Arizona principals surveyed. That, too, can bias value-added results.

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