More Value-Added Problems in DC’s Public Schools

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Over the past month I have posted two entries about what’s going in in DC’s public schools with the value-added-based teacher evaluation system developed and advanced by the former School Chancellor Michelle Rhee and carried on by the current School Chancellor Kaya Henderson.

The first post was about a bogus “research” study in which National Bureau of Education Research (NBER)/University of Virginia and Stanford researchers overstated false claims that the system was indeed working and effective, despite┬áthe fact that (among other problems) 83% of the teachers in the study did not have student test scores available to measure their “value added.” The second post was about a DC teacher’s experiences being evaluated under this system (as part of the aforementioned 83%) using almost solely his administrator’s and master educator’s observational scores. Demonstrated with data in this post was how error prone this part of the DC system also evidenced itself to be.

Adding to the value-added issues in DC, it was just released by DC public school officials (the day before winter break) and then two Washington Post articles (see the first article here and the second here) that 44 DC public school teachers also received incorrect evaluation scores for the last academic year (2012-2013) because of technical errors in the ways the scores were calculated. One of the 44 teachers was fired as a result, although (s)he is now looking to be reinstated and compensated for the salary lost.

While “[s]chool officials described the errors as the most significant since the system launched a controversial initiative in 2009 to evaluate teachers in part on student test scores,” they also downplayed the situation as only impacting 44.

VAM formulas are certainly “subject to error,” and they are subject to error always, across the board, for teachers in general as well as the 470 DC public school teachers with value-added scores based on student test scores. Put more accurately, just over 10% (n=470) of all DC teachers (n=4,000) were evaluated using their students’ test scores, which is even less than the 83% mentioned above. And for about 10% of these teachers (n=44), calculation errors were found.

This is not a “minor glitch” as written into a recent Huffington Post article covering the same story, which positions the teachers’ unions as almost irrational for “slamming the school system for the mistake and raising broader questions about the system.” It is a major glitch caused both by inappropriate “weightings” of teachers’ administrator’ and master educators’ observational scores, as well as “a small technical error” that directly impacted the teachers’ value-added calculations. It is a major glitch with major implications about which others, including not just those from the unions but many (e.g., 90%) from the research community, are concerned. It is a major glitch that does warrant additional cause about this AND all of the other statistical and other errors not mentioned but prevalent in all value-added scores (e.g., the errors always found in large-scale standardized tests particularly given their non-equivalent scales, the errors caused by missing data, the errors caused by small class sizes, the errors caused by summer learning loss/gains, the errors caused by other teachers’ simultaneous and carry over effects, the errors caused by parental and peer effects [see also this recent post about these], etc.).

So what type of consequence is to be in store for those perpetuating such nonsense? Including, particularly here, those charged with calculating and releasing value-added “estimates” (“estimates” as these are not and should never be interpreted as hard data), but also the reporters who report on the issues without understanding them or reading the research about them. I, for one, would like to see them held accountable for the “value” they too are to “add” to our thinking about these social issues, but who rather detract and distract readers away from the very real, research-based issues at hand.

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