Correction: Make the “Top 13” VAM Articles the “Top 14”

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As per my most recent post earlier today, about the Top 13 research-based articles about VAMs, low and behold another great research-based statement was just this week released by the American Statistical Association (ASA), titled the “ASA Statement on Using Value-Added Models for Educational Assessment.”

So, let’s make the Top 13 the Top 14 and call it a day. I say “day” deliberately; this is such a hot and controversial topic it is often hard to keep up with the literature in this area, on literally a daily basis.

As per this outstanding statement released by the ASA – the best statistical organization in the U.S. and one of if not the best statistical associations in the world – some of the most important parts of their statement, taken directly from their full statement as I see them, follow:

  1. VAMs are complex statistical models, and high-level statistical expertise is needed to
    develop the models and [emphasis added] interpret their results.
  2. Estimates from VAMs should always be accompanied by measures of precision and a discussion of the assumptions and possible limitations of the model. These limitations are particularly relevant if VAMs are used for high-stakes purposes.
  3. VAMs are generally based on standardized test scores, and do not directly measure
    potential teacher contributions toward other student outcomes.
  4. VAMs typically measure correlation, not causation: Effects – positive or negative –
    attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in the model.
  5. Under some conditions, VAM scores and rankings can change substantially when a
    different model or test is used, and a thorough analysis should be undertaken to
    evaluate the sensitivity of estimates to different models.
  6. VAMs should be viewed within the context of quality improvement, which distinguishes aspects of quality that can be attributed to the system from those that can be attributed to individual teachers, teacher preparation programs, or schools.
  7. Most VAM studies find that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, and that the majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in the system-level conditions. Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality.
  8. Attaching too much importance to a single item of quantitative information is counter-productive—in fact, it can be detrimental to the goal of improving quality.
  9. When used appropriately, VAMs may provide quantitative information that is relevant for improving education processes…[but only if used for descriptive/description purposes]. Otherwise, using VAM scores to improve education requires that they provide meaningful information about a teacher’s ability to promote student learning…[and they just do not do this at this point, as there is no research evidence to support this ideal].
  10. A decision to use VAMs for teacher evaluations might change the way the tests are viewed and lead to changes in the school environment. For example, more classr
    oom time might be spent on test preparation and on specific content from the test at the exclusion of content that may lead to better long-term learning gains or motivation for students. Certain schools may be hard to staff if there is a perception that it is harder for teachers to achieve good VAM scores when working in them. Overreliance on VAM scores may foster a competitive environment, discouraging collaboration and efforts to improve the educational system as a whole.

Also important to point out is that included in the report the ASA makes recommendations regarding the “key questions states and districts [yes, practitioners!] should address regarding the use of any type of VAM.” These include, although they are not limited to questions about reliability (consistency), validity, the tests on which VAM estimates are based, and the major statistical errors that always accompany VAM estimates, but are often buried and often not reported with results (i.e., in terms of confidence
intervals or standard errors).

Also important is the purpose for ASA’s statement, as written by them: “As the largest organization in the United States representing statisticians and related professionals, the American Statistical Association (ASA) is making this statement to provide guidance, given current knowledge and experience, as to what can and cannot reasonably be expected from the use of VAMs. This statement focuses on the use of VAMs for assessing teachers’ performance but the issues discussed here also apply to their use for school or principal accountability. The statement is not intended to be prescriptive. Rather, it is intended to enhance general understanding of the strengths and limitations of the results generated by VAMs and thereby encourage the informed use of these results.”

If you’re going to choose one article to read and review, this week or this month, and one that is thorough and to the key points, this is the one I recommend you read…at least for now!

2 thoughts on “Correction: Make the “Top 13” VAM Articles the “Top 14”

  1. On my list, I’d include papers from Harvey Goldstein and others at their centre as they have among the most influential over several decades on the topic. The British Academy report ( might be a good choice for this blog’s readers (others of his publications are on One sentence about VAMs I often cite is the final one of his 1991 paper “Better ways to compare schools”:

    Its power is limited, and it is most certainly not a magic wand that will allow us automatically to make definitive pronouncements about differences between individual schools.

  2. Pingback: A Pragmatic Position on VAMs |

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