A VAM Shame, again, from Florida

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Another teacher from Florida wrote a blog post for Diane Ravitch, and I just came across it and am re-posting it here. Be sure to give it a good read as you will see that what is happening in her state right now and why it is a VAM shame!

She writes:

I conducted a very unscientific study and concluded that I might possibly have the worst VAM score at my school. Today I conducted a slightly more scientific analysis and now I can confidently proclaim myself to be the worst teacher at my school, the 14th worst teacher in Dade County, and the 146th worst (out of 120,000) in the state of Florida! There were 4,800 pages of teachers ranked highest to lowest on the Florida Times Union website and my VAM was on page 4,795. Gosh damn! That’s a bad VAM!  I always feared I might end up at the low end of the spectrum due to the fact that I teach gifted students that score high already and have no room to grow, but 146th out of 120,000?!?! That’s not “needs improvement.” That’s “you really stink and should immediately have your teaching license revoked before you do anymore harm to innocent children” bad. That’s, “your odds are so bad you better hope you don’t get eaten by a shark or struck by lightening” bad.  This is the reason I don’t play the lotto or gamble in Vegas. And to think some other Florida teacher had the nerve to write a blog post declaring herself to be one of the worst teachers in the state and her VAM was only -3%! Negative 3 percent is the best you got honey? I’ll meet your negative 3 percent and raise you another negative 146 percentage points! (Actually I enjoyed her blog post [see also our coverage of this teacher’s story here] and I hope more teachers come out of their VAM closets soon).

Speaking of coming out of the VAM closet, I managed to hunt down the emails of about ten other bottom dwellers as posted by the Florida Times Union. I was attempting to conduct a minor survey of what types of teachers end up getting slammed by VAM. Did they have anything in common? What types of students did they teach? As of this moment, none of them have returned my emails. I really wanted to get in touch with “The Worst Teacher in the State of Florida” according to VAM. After a little cyber stalking, it turns out she’s my teaching twin. She also teaches ninth grade world history to gifted students in a preIB program.  The runner up for “Worst Teacher in the State of Florida” teaches at an arts magnet school.  Are we really to believe that teachers selected to teach in an IB program or magnet school are the very worst the state of Florida has to offer? Let me tell you a little something about teaching gifted students. They are the first kids to nark out a bad teacher because they don’t think anyone is good enough to teach them. First they’ll let you know to your face that they’re smarter than you and you stink at teaching. Then they’ll tell their parents and the gifted guidance counselor who will nark you out to the Principal. If you suck as a gifted teacher, you won’t last long.

I don’t want to ignore the poor teachers that get slammed by VAM on the opposite end of the spectrum either. Although there appeared to be many teachers of high achievers who scored poorly under VAM, there also seemed to be an abundance of special education teachers as well.  These poor educators are often teaching children with horrible disabilities who will never show any learning gains on a standardized test. Do we really want to create a system that penalizes and fires the teachers whose positions we struggle the hardest to fill? Is it any wonder that teachers who teach the very top performers and teachers who teach the lowest performers would come out looking the worst in an algorithm measuring learning gains? I suck at math and this was immediately obvious to me.

Another interesting fact garnered from my amateur and cursory analysis of Florida VAM data is the fact that high school teachers overwhelming populated the bottom of the VAM rankings. Of the 148 teachers who scored lower than me, 136 were high school teachers. Ten were middle school teachers, and only two elementary school teachers.  All of this directly contradicts the testimony of Ms. Kathy Hebda, Deputy Chancellor for Educator Quality, in front of the Florida lawmakers last year regarding the Florida VAM.

“Hebda presented charts to the House K-12 Education Subcommittee that show almost zero correlation between teachers’ evaluation scores and the percentages of their students who are poor, nonwhite, gifted, disabled or English language learners. Teachers similarly didn’t get any advantage or disadvantage based on what grade levels they teach.

“Those things didn’t seem to factor in,” Hebda said. “You can’t tell for a teacher’s classroom by the way the value-added scores turned out whether she had zero percent students on free and reduced price lunch or 100 percent.”

Hebda’s 2013 testimony in two public hearings was intended to assure policymakers that everything was just swell with VAM as an affirmation that the merit pay provision of the 2011 Student Success Act (SB736) was going to be ready for prime time in the scheduled 2015 roll-out. No wonder the FLDOE didn’t want actual VAM date released as data completely contradicts Hebda’s assurances that “the model did its job.”

I certainly have been a little disappointed with the media coverage of the FLDOE losing its lawsuit and being forced to release Florida teacher VAM data this week.  The Florida Times Union considers this data to be a treasure trove of information but they haven’t dug very deep into the data they fought so hard to procure. The Miami Herald barely acknowledged that anything noteworthy happened in education news this week.  You would think some other journalist would have thought to cover a story about “The Worst Teacher in Florida.” I write this blog to cover teacher stories that major media outlets don’t seem interested in telling (that, and I am trying to stave off early dementia while on maternity leave).  One journalist bothered to dig up the true story behind the top ten teachers in Florida. But no one has bothered telling the stories of the bottom ten. Those are the teachers who are most likely to be fired and have their teaching licenses revoked by the state. Let those stories be told. Let the public see what kinds of teachers they are at risk of losing to this absurd excuse of an “objective measure of teacher effectiveness” before it’s too late.

2 thoughts on “A VAM Shame, again, from Florida

  1. Please contact me! I am crushed by the VAM. Depressed and still incredulous at what has come up to me.
    You may email me, I am out of the VAM closet…

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