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  1. This explanation of SGP and VAM is great; however, if I could see the formula to calculate the SGP and have an example to apply the formula, it would be better.

  2. Please join this grass roots RESISTANCE. Let the powers that be know that their power is being threatened by outraged parents (i.e. voters), teachers (i.e. voters), administrators (i.e. voters), general educators (i.e. voters), and concerned citizens (i.e. voters). Once a cornerstone of our democracy, public education is under attack by the 1%. Sign this petition and join the wildfire of opposition to this corporate take over attempt. Do not let the neo-liberals co-opt our public schools -and our student’s futures.

    I just started this at Petition2Congress. It is very easy to sign, copies are automatically sent to President Obama, and your own senators and your representatives. Please take the time to read and the petition entitled: STOP COMMON CORE TESTING. Thank you.

  3. The Mismeasure of Students and Educators
    The latest in the propaganda war against teachers and students is the notion of Value Added Assessment or Analysis. This purportedly accurate measurement uses a statistical technique based on a minimum of three data points in the past to predict the likelihood of a student achieving a certain level of proficiency on a subject area standardized test. This seemingly impressive quantitative data conveys an aura of scientific legitimacy for what really is a fallacious reductionist view of knowledge as a discrete number or percentage. It calls to mind the scathing and definitive rebuke of IQ testing and the reification of intelligence in Stephen Jay Gould’s brilliant book The Mismeasure of Man. Lest one think that the late Dr. Gould didn’t have the background to appreciate quantitative data, Stephen Jay Gould was the evolutionary biologist who developed the Punctuated Equilibria Theory which has significantly contributed to our understanding of the evolution of life on earth. Unlike those reductionists who quantify learning into a percentage, Dr. Gould was able to get the big picture and come up with profound ideas.
    In defending the Value Added approach, it is argued that it doesn’t matter what the student’s economic background, because each student is in effect his/her own control since the data being compared are his/her own data from year to year. Anyone working with children knows that test grades can vary from week to week and certainly from year to year. Test grades for the same student may also vary greatly from subject to subject. If one looks at test data over a number of school years, there are often major differences. Children change. Child development and adolescent behavior enter into the equation, and the variables are many and are not controlled.
    Parents will be quite surprised and likely dismayed to learn that during the fall of the 2014 – 2015 school year the State of Pennsylvania’s Department of Education will use data to predict the supposed likelihood to a tenth of a percent of a student scoring Below Basic, Basic, Proficient, or Advanced for each student who will be taking a Keystone Exam 9 months later in May. That is before the child has ever taken a biology class, the state will say that little Susie or Johnny has a 14.7% chance of scoring proficient on the Biology Keystone. They will derive this percentage from a minimum of three data points from previous years’ standardized test results. Never mind that the data points are from unrelated subjects. Who cares if we mix apples and oranges as long as we have a number! If Johnny’s or Susie’s teacher decreases the 14.7% chance to pass to 14.2%, bad teacher. The student data for that teacher will be included in that instructor’s evaluation and will have a negative impact if the collective “value subtracted” is greater than the “value added.” If the teacher has increased Johnny’s or Susie’s chance to pass to 16.1%, then that teacher is a Value Added educator. Never mind the fact that the state is giving little Johnny or Susie a very slim chance of receiving a passing grade before he/she has ever taken the course. Sounds like the casino approach to education. It is strongly suggested that these quantitative experts go back and take a high school science class. Perhaps they need to learn the basics of scientific method. You can’t have reliable data if you are measuring different types of things for the same experiment.
    It also appears that the number crunchers are actually divorced from the testing instruments. In Pennsylvania two different companies are responsible and what is actually asked seems to be of no consequence to those doing the computations.
    The tests are written by a relatively small player in the testing business, Minnesota based Data Recognition Corporation with $118 million in revenue. Many states are now part of PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers,) a coalition of states that want to use the same exams written by Pearson which is also a major player in the American high school textbook market. 2013 revenues for Pearson were $7.925 billion. It is likely that state standards, textbook content and test questions will be similarly aligned in part due to the dominance of this company, for better or worse.
    The Pennsylvania Department of Education refuses to release old exam questions or even old Classroom Diagnostic test (a practice test) questions. When asked about the paucity of materials for study and curriculum purposes, the response has been that it costs thousands of dollars to write a question and that launching it out there is like launching your baby into the world. You can’t just give it away. It is probably safe to say that many of these questions are likely to be reused on future tests. The only questions that have been released are a limited number of sample questions, some of which are poorly written and ambiguous. When asked about the sample questions, it was stated that those were the rejects that were not used on the tests. Yet those samples are the only questions published by the Pennsylvania Department of Education for teachers and students to prepare for these high stakes assessments. This stands in stark contrast to the longstanding New York Regents Exams which are not written by a multimillion or billion dollar corporation but rather by teachers working with the New York State Department of Education under the authority of the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York. These subject area exams are given three times a year. No sooner than they are administered, the exam questions are made available online, along with an answer key and scoring guide for constructed response essay questions. No one is kept in the dark about the types of questions or content one can expect because of the extensive material made readily accessible to all concerned.
    The North Carolina based corporation responsible for the number crunching for Pennsylvania’s Value Added Assessments is SAS, known for business analytics software and services. Its 2013 revenue in the US was $3.02 billion. The last five years has seen a growth in revenue of about a billion annually. The revenue growth has been buoyed by the increase in school districts jumping on board with Value Added Assessment. Enriching the private sector through lucrative contracts while cutting state funding to public school districts seems to be a trend over the past decade. One area of Pennsylvania educational funding that has been on the rise is for standardized testing. The 2013 – 2014 budget had approved $53,691,000 for assessments. The 2014 – 2015 budget has $58,291,000 allotted for testing, an additional $4,600,000 or an 8.57% increase at the same time that there has been no increase in state funding for basic education.
    As indicated previously, while SAS determines if teachers and students are “value added” or not, it has nothing to do with assessing the validity of the test instrument itself which is written by employees of the Data Recognition Corporation.
    Since it is not difficult to poke holes in the methodology employed by the number crunchers not to mention the lack of transparency in the construction of the exam, its reliability, alignment with curricula, etc., one must then ask what is the real motivation for all this testing and supposed quantification of the growth of student learning and value of teachers?
    There is an all-out war against public education being waged in the United States and it is happening quickly. It has been a multipronged assault which includes the funding of charter schools, the defunding of public schools, attacks on teachers, their unions, seniority, salary scales, and pensions. The overuse and abuse of standardized testing has been a powerful weapon to help accomplish this. Poor scores on these tests are deliberated and unfairly correlated to mean poor teachers and bad schools. Hence get rid of unionized teachers and public schools. Replace them with schools run by corporations and send teacher salary scales back to a prior century when teachers were known to have the worst salary scales for professionals with that level of education.
    It is already a fait accompli in poor New Orleans’ Recovery School District, where the remaining traditional public schools closed permanently in June. 510 of 600 employees lost their jobs. 33,000 students had to apply for a seat by lottery to get into one of the 58 charter schools.
    When a major American city gets rid of all its public schools alarms should sound. It threatens to undermine the essence of our democracy since without public education, as in centuries past, only the children of the privileged and powerful will have access to a quality education.
    With regard to real educational growth rather than a fixation on standardized test scores, it is instructive to heed the advice of a historic mover and shaker in American education, John Dewey, “Were all instructors” (to that one should add educational policy makers) “to realize that the quality of mental process, not the production of correct answers, is the measure of educative growth something hardly less than a revolution in teaching” (education) “would be worked.” (Democracy and Education)

    Robin Williams
    Biology teacher

  4. Do you have any resources to find out more about the articles listed on your site? After reading many of the articles, I confirmed what I already knew in my heart of hearts, and saw with my own score data…. Prior to VAM my students’ progress was always improving as I refined my approach to subject matter. AFTER VAM, and $$ attached to performance, suddenly, my scores are dropping.
    How can we get the actual equation used to calculate the “gains” and the VAM? Also, how can we find out the expected gains for each student?

    • I don’t have any additional resources, besides these, those I’ve covered on this blog, and those you might be able to find via general searches on the internet. In terms of finding the equation, your state and/or district should make this publicly available or respond to a request for this as this IS to be transparent. I’ve never heard of anybody requesting or receiving their predictions prior, however. Interesting idea actually…

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