Does A “Statistically Sound” Alternative Exist?

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A few weeks ago a follower posed the following question on our website, and I thought it imperative to share.

Following the post about “The Arbitrariness Inherent in Teacher Observations,” he wrote: “Have you written about a statistically sound alternative proposal?”

My reply? “Nope. I do not believe such a thing exists. I do have a sound alternative proposal though, that has sound statistics to support it. It serves as the core of chapter 8 of my recent book.”

Essentially, this is a solution that, counter-intuitively, offers an even-more conventional and traditional solution. This is a solution that has research and statistical evidence in support, and has evidenced itself as superior to using value-added measures, along with other measures of teacher effectiveness in their current forms, for evaluating and holding teachers accountable for their effectiveness. It is based on the use of multiple measures, as aligned with the standards of the profession and also locally defined theories capturing what it means to be an effective teacher. Its effectiveness also relies on competent supervisors and elected colleagues serving as professional members of educators’ representative juries.

This solution does not rely solely on mathematics and the allure of numbers or grandeur of objectivity that too often comes along with numerical representation, especially in the social sciences. This solution does not trust the test scores too often (and wrongly) used to assess teacher quality, simply because the test output is already available (and paid for) and these data can be represented numerically, mathematically, and hence objectively. This solution does not marginalize human judgment, but rather embraces human judgment for what it is worth, as positioned and operationalized within a more professional, democratically-based, and sound system of judgment, decision-making, and support.

1 thought on “Does A “Statistically Sound” Alternative Exist?

  1. Subject: Teacher Evaluations Based on Test Scores (VAM)
    To Whom It May Concern,

    Should teachers be evaluated? If they should on what bases should they be evaluated on? The Performance Evaluation Reform Act (PERA), passed in January 2010 gave way to teachers being evaluated partly on student test scores (Value Added Measurement). The PERA rules state that the student growth part of a teacher’s evaluation must be at least 25% the first two years and 30% after that, possibly going to 40% in the future. This comes from people who don’t work in a classroom. I believe teachers should be evaluated, but it’s the system which was developed to evaluate teacher’s that is not a fair system. According to the Chicago Teacher’s Union article in the ctunet vol 75 No. 7 April/May 2012 issue “It is unreliable – a teacher could be scored excellent one year and unsatisfactory the next – and it is a ranking: those with the lowest “value added” score always lose out, no matter how much they’ve helped students”.

    As a CPS employee for 24 years in the teacher assistant and teacher capacities, I now am a technology teacher servicing all students in a school. I have seen lots of changes come and go; some good that have stayed in place and some that made no sense at all that have died out. This issue of teacher’s being evaluated by value added measurement was set in across the board whether you taught one class or sixteen classes. Born of education “accountability” efforts, VAM is being used to quantify whether teachers are getting the best results from their students. It uses a complex statistical formula to predict students’ future performance based on their past scores, disability, gifted status, and movement from school to school and other factors. Additional testing of students will show if they rise above their expected performance.

    What aggravates teachers most is that 40 to 50 percent of their evaluation is based on “student achievement” — but it’s not always their own students who are being measured nor is it in the subject area that they teach. One of the nation’s leading scholarly organizations The American Statistical Association issues caution on the use of VAM. In Diane Ravitch’s blog the ASA is quoted as saying “The organization neither condemns nor promotes the use of VAM, but its warnings about the limitations of this methodology clearly demonstrate that the Obama administration has committed the nation’s public schools to a policy fraught with error. ASA warns that VAMs are “complex statistical models” that require “high-level statistical expertise” and awareness of their “assumptions and possible limitations,” especially when they are used for high-stakes purposes as is now common.” How can a teacher be evaluated on such methodology?


    Concerned Teacher

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