VAM Updates from An Important State to Watch: Tennessee

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The state of Tennessee, the state in which our beloved education-based VAMs were born (see here and here), has been one state we have been following closely on VAMboozled! throughout the last year’s blog posts.

Throughout this period we have heard from concerned administrators and teachers in Tennessee (see, for example, here and here). We have written about how something called subject area bias also exists, unheard of in the VAM-related literature until a Tennessee administrator sent us a lead, and we analyzed Tennessee’s data (see here and here, and also an article also written by my graduate student and now Dr. Jessica Holloway-Libell forthcoming in the esteemed Teachers College Record). We followed closely the rise and recent fall of the career of Tennessee’s Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman (see, for example, here and here, respectively). And we have watched how the Tennessee Board of Education and other leaders in the state have met, attempted to rescind, and actually rescinded some of the policy requirements that tie teachers’ to their VAM scores, again as determined by teachers’ students’ performance as calculated by the familiar Tennessee Education Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS), and its all-too-familiar mother-ship, the Education Value-Added Assessment System (EVAAS).

Now, following the (in many ways celebrated) exit of Commissioner Huffman, it seems the state is taking an even more reasonable stance towards VAMs and their use(s) for teacher accountability…at least for now.

As per a recent article in the Tennessee Education Report (see also an article in The Tennessean here) Governor Bill Haslam announced this week that “he will be proposing changes to the state’s teacher evaluation process in the 2015 legislative session,” the most significant change being “to reduce the weight of value-added data on teacher evaluations during the transition [emphasis added] to a new test for Tennessee students.” New tests are to be developed in 2016, which is unlikely to be part of the Common Core, and rather significantly informed by teachers in consultation with Measurement Inc.

Anyhow, as per Governor Haslam’s press release (as also cited in this article), he intends to do the following three things:

  1. Adjust the weighting of student growth data in a teacher’s evaluation so that the new state assessments in ELA [English/language arts] and math will count 10 percent of the overall evaluation in the first year of administration (2016), 20 percent in year two (2017) and 35 percent in year three (2018). Currently 35 percent of an educator’s evaluation is comprised of student achievement data based on student growth;
  2. Lower the weight of student achievement growth for teachers in non-tested grades and subjects from 25 percent to 15 percent;
  3. And make explicit local school district discretion in both the qualitative teacher evaluation model that is used for the observation portion of the evaluation as well as the specific weight student achievement growth in evaluations will play in personnel
    decisions made by the district.

Obviously, the latter two points (i.e., #2 and #3) demonstrate steps in the right direction: #2 to be a bit more reasonable about whether teachers who don’t actually teach students in the subject areas should be held accountable for out-of-subject scores (although I’d vote for 0% weight here) and #3 to handover to districts more local discretion and control over how their teacher evaluations are conducted (although VAMs still must be a part).

I’m less optimistic about the first intended change, however, as “the proposal does not go as far as some have proposed” (e.g., the American Statistical Association (ASA) as per some of their key points in their position statement on VAMs). This first change still supports what is still a “heroic” assumption that VAMs do work, and in this case will get better over time (i.e., 2016, 2017, 2018) with “new and improved tests,” so that the weights in place now (i.e., 35%) might be more appropriate then, and hence reached, or just reached regardless of appropriateness at that time…

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