VAMs “Contribute to Student Learning?”

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On Friday, The Florida Times-Union released an Opinion-Editorial (Op-Ed) titled “VAM Data Helps [sic] Contribute to Student Learning.” With curiosity, I thought this might be the first Op-Ed to suggest, hopefully with at least some evidence, that VAM-based data can be used in some type of formative way(s). The author of this might know how, or better yet have research evidence to support the title of his/her Op-Ed piece?

So I thought, in many ways unfortunately, as I can (still) only hope that at least something positive is coming from all this VAM-based nonsense (e.g., increased student learning).

Unfortunately, however, and after reading the first paragraph, I could have predicted that this piece did not come from an educator. Rather, the Op-Ed was written by Gary Chartrand — the chairman of Florida’s State Board of Education.

His claims? All hoaxes, as Diane Ravitch would put it, all of which he is advancing in this Op-Ed without any research evidence whatsoever in support, but because he “believes” in the claims he advances. Recall when people believed the world was flat? Just because people believed this, did not mean it was true though did it (see note below).

Some of his most outlandish (and unfortunately false) claims and beliefs include the following:

  • Those who are critical of VAMs, particularly in Florida are “seek[ing] to reverse the hard work of teachers and school districts in using this [sic] data to help inform teacher practice and performance.”
  • VAMs “provide a more in-depth and realistic look at classroom practices that the best teachers [can] use every day [emphasis added] to improve instruction and student learning.”
  • “It is only when these important data sources [e.g., VAM estimates and observational data] are considered together that we begin to see the full picture of an individual’s performance and can determine how much our teachers and principals are contributing to our students’ learning.”

Unfortunately, again, all of these claims are false, and false for so many reasons already detailed on this blog. For purposes of brevity, however, no research evidence exists, to date, to support any of the above claims, or any of the other claims as written into this piece.

I have read over 700 research articles, technical reports, news stories, and other Op-Eds just like this, and never has even one of them (i.e., that is from a pro VAM perspective) ever been written by a teacher or administrator working in America’s public schools and living out the realities of these systems in practice.

If one of you are out there, please do write because I would love to know that at least somebody out there, with hands on experience with these data, can actually evidence if not just suggest that using VAM-based data does improve student learning. I would honestly like to be wrong in this case.

Note: Thanks to Dr. James Banks for a recent conversation about this (i.e., beliefs versus research-based truths) during his Inside the Academy interview.

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