Educator Evaluations (and the Use of VAM) Unlikely to be Mandated in Reauthorization of ESEA

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In invited a colleague of mine – Kimberly Kappler Hewitt (Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina, Greensboro) – to write a guest post for you all, and she did on her thoughts regarding what is currently occurring on Capitol Hill regarding the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Here is what she wrote:

Amidst what is largely a bitterly partisan culture on Capitol Hill, Republicans and Democrats agree that teacher evaluation is unlikely to be mandated in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the most recent iteration of which is No Child Left Behind (NCLB), signed into law in 2001. See here for an Education Week article by Lauren Camera on the topic.

In another piece on the topic (here), the same author Camera explains: “Republicans, including Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said Washington shouldn’t mandate such policies, while Democrats, including ranking member Patty Murray, D-Wash., were wary of increasing the role student test scores play in evaluations and how those evaluations are used to compensate teachers.” However, under draft legislation introduced by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Title II funding would turn into federal block grants, which could be used by states for educator evaluation. Regardless, excluding a teacher evaluation mandate from ESEA reauthorization may undermine efforts by the Obama administration to incorporate student test score gains as a significant component of educator evaluation.

Camera further explains: “Should Congress succeed in overhauling the federal K-12 law, the lack of teacher evaluation requirements will likely stop in its tracks the Obama administration’s efforts to push states to adopt evaluation systems based in part on student test scores and performance-based compensation systems.”

Under the Obama administration, in order for states to obtain a waiver from NCLB penalties and to receive a Race to the Top Grant, they had to incorporate—as a significant component—student growth data in educator evaluations. Influenced by these powerful policy levers, forty states and the District of Columbia require objective measures of student learning to be included in educator evaluations—a sea change from just five years ago (Doherty & Jacobs/National Council on Teacher Quality, 2013). Most states use either some type of value-added model (VAM) or student growth percentile (SGP) model to calculate a teacher’s contribution to student score changes.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

As someone who is skeptical about the use of VAMs and SGPs for evaluating educators, I have mixed feelings about the idea that educator evaluation will be left out of ESEA reauthorization. I believe that student growth measures such as VAMs and SGPs should be used not as a calculable component of an educator’s evaluation but as a screener to flag educators who may need further scrutiny or support, a recommendation made by a number of student growth measure (SGM) experts (e.g., Baker et al., 2010; Hill, Kapitula, & Umland, 2011; IES, 2010; Linn, 2008).

Here are two thoughts about the consequences of not incorporating policy on educator evaluation in the reauthorization of ESEA:

  1. Lack of clear federal vision for educator evaluation devolves to states the debate. There are strong debates about what the nature of educator evaluation can and should be, and education luminaries such as Linda Darling Hammond and James Popham have weighed in on the issue (see here and here, respectively). If Congress does not address educator evaluation in ESEA legislation, the void will be filled by disparate state policies. This in itself is neither good nor bad. It does, however, call into question the longevity of the efforts the Obama administration has made to leverage educator evaluation as a way to increase teacher quality. Essentially, the lack of action on the part of Congress regarding educator evaluation devolves the debates to the state level, which means that heated—and sometimes vitriolic—debates about educator evaluation will endure, shifting attention away from other efforts that could have a more powerful and more positive effect on student learning.
  2. Possibility of increases in inequity. ESEA was first passed in 1965 as part of President Johnson’s War on Poverty. ESEA was intended to promote equity for students from poverty by providing federal funding to districts serving low-income students. The idea was that the federal government could help to level the playing field, so to speak, for students who lacked the advantages of higher income students. My own research suggests that the use of VAM for educator evaluation potentially exacerbates inequity in that some teachers avoid working with certain groups of students (e.g., students with disabilities, gifted students, and students who are multiple grade levels behind) and at certain schools, especially high-poverty schools, based on the perception that teaching such students and in such schools will result in lower value-added scores. Without federal legislation that provides clear direction to states that student test score data should not be used for high-stakes evaluation and personnel decisions, states may continue to use data in this manner, which could exacerbate the very inequities that ESEA was originally designed to address.

While it is a good thing, in my mind, that ESEA reauthorization will not mandate educator evaluation that incorporates student test score data, it is a bad (or at least ugly) thing that Congress is abdicating the role of promoting sound educator evaluation policy.

References

Baker, A. L., Barton, P. E., Darling-Hammond, L., Haertel, E., Ladd, H. F., Linn, R. L., . . . Shepard, L. A. (2010). Problems with the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers. EPI Briefing Paper. Washington, D.C.

Hill, H. C., Kapitula, L., & Umland, K. (2011). A validity argument approach to evaluating teacher value-added scores. American Educational Research Journal, 48(3), 794-831.

Doherty, K. M., & Jacobs, S./National Council on Teacher Quality (2013). State of the states 2013: Connect the dots: Using evaluation of teacher effectiveness to inform policy and practice. Washington, D. C.: National Council on Teacher Quality.

Institute of Education Sciences. (2010). Error rates in measuring teacher and school performance based on students’ test score gains. Washington, D.C.: U. S. Department of Education.

Linn, R. L. (2008). Methodological issues in achieving school accountability. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 40(6), 699-711.

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