This week in The Shanker Blog, authors lan Daly (Professor, University of California San Diego) and Kara Finnigan (Associate Professor, the University of Rochester) published a piece titled: No Teacher Is An Island: The Role Of Social Relations In Teacher Evaluation.
They discuss, as largely based on their research and expertise in social network analyses, the roles of social interactions when examining student outcomes (i.e., student outcomes that are to be directly attributed to teacher effects using value-added models).
They also discuss three major assumptions surrounding the use of value-added measures to assess teacher quality. The first assumption is that growth in student achievement is the result of (really only) interaction(s) among teacher knowledge/training/experience, teachers’ abilities to teach, students’ prior performance levels, and student demographics. Once that assumption is agreed to, the second assumption is that all of these variables can be captured (well), or controlled for (well), using a quantitative or numerical measure. It is then assumed, more generally, that “a teacher’s ability to ‘add-value’ [can be appropriately captured as] a very individualistic undertaking determined almost exclusively by the human capital (i.e., training, knowledge, and skills) of the individual teacher and some basic characteristics of the student.”
As they explain in this piece, these assumptions overlook recent research, as well as reality. They also provide two real-world examples (with graphics to help illustrate how these interactions really look in reality, which I also advise readers to examine here). The first real-world example captures a teacher who “enters a grade level or department in which trust is low and teachers do not share or collaborate around effective practices, innovative ideas or instructional resources, all of which have been shown to support student achievement.” The second real-world example captures a teacher who “enters a department in which teachers actively collaborate, exchange ideas, develop common assessments and reflect on practice – in short, a faculty that operates as a professional learning community.”
Even though these teachers might be teaching two miles from one another, as they are in the case used to illustrate this point, “the first teacher is ‘disadvantaged’ because he/she was not able to learn from colleagues and, as a result, [appears to be] less equipped to provide effective instruction to students. In contrast, in the second scenario, a similarly skilled teacher, one who has benefited from rich exchanges with peers, [appears to have the capacity] to add more ‘value’ based on increased access to effective instructional practices and support from colleagues, as well as many other relational resources such as emotional support or mentorship.”
While these two teachers, with very different professional (and likely personal) realities vary greatly, the value-added models used to evaluate them will not really vary at all, nor will or can the models capture all that interacts with their effectiveness, every single day of every year they teach.
Such teachers will vary only by the types of schools in which they teach, largely given the varying backgrounds of the students they teach and the “prior performance” numerically captured in the model (as mentioned). This, it is assumed, effectively captures all of these other “things” or data nuances (and nuisances) as oft-perceived.
This all continues to occur entirely despite “the social milieu” that always surround teachers’ professional practice, which these authors argue in this article “play a crucial role”…and in their view might be the most significant shortcoming of many/most/all value-added models.
Do read more here.