Wednesday, October 28, 2020
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Tennessee, where VAM began, takes a step back


The Tennessee State Board of Education on Jan 31 promised to rewrite the state’s teacher licensing guidelines by April—without putting as much emphasis on standardized test scores in any kind of value-added model, or VAM, the Tennessean reports.

The change contradicts the position that had brought some praise from education reformers to the state’s education leaders, including Superintendent Kevin Huffman and the Tennessee Education Association, the teachers’ union that represents most of the state’s public school teachers. For example, the National Council on Teacher Quality gave Tennessee the second highest grade in the nation on a recent report card as a result of the heavy weight test scores played in the Educator Licensure Policy.

However, the proposed changes to the licensure policy are dramatic, with almost the entire existing policy being deleted and the weight of test scores scaled back considerably. Reformers still played down the impact.

“The idea that you would use actual evidence instead of nothing, like most states do … is movement in the right direction,” the paper quoted Sandi Jacobs, NCTQ’s state policy director, as saying. “That you can find specific examples where it may not work perfectly shows there are details to be worked out.”

By “actual evidence,” she means test scores.

There’s no use beating a dead horse, since I’ve been on the record for many years saying test scores like those being used in Tennessee do not address teacher effectiveness or teacher quality. My reason for relaying this somewhat old news is merely to say that I hope the folks in Tennessee make an ethical decision for their students. Keep in mind that proposed changes are just that: proposed. And reformers in education have lots of money with which to buy votes.

I only wish education leaders in other states would realize what the state board in Tennessee is finally beginning to notice. Maryland’s teacher evaluations will still be based “significantly” on student growth, which is another term for “value-added,” since it is erroneously assumed that any student growth measured on standardized tests was due to value added by the teacher. The Frederick News-Post reports on a teacher evaluation story out of Frederick County, Md.

The Danielson Framework

Teacher evaluations in Frederick County are based on the “Danielson Framework.” It’s not easy these days to find a school district whose teachers aren’t being evaluated using this framework, which was originally researched in 1996 by Charlotte Danielson but has since been modified a few times at the behest of education reformers. Ms Danielson has received “royalties” of a sort for the reformers’ use of her framework, which has four “domains” or focal points for teacher quality:

  • Domain 1: Planning and Preparation
  • Domain 2: The Classroom Environment
  • Domain 3: Instruction, including 3d: Using Assessment in Instruction
  • Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities

It’s a wonderful framework, although many evaluators, who would be the principals and assistant principals in our schools, have said they don’t have enough time to complete the detailed and very helpful feedback required when they use the Danielson framework. It’s a nice idea, though, and if it means we have to hire more assistant principals, so be it.

The problem is, education reformers’ brains have flown south for the winter when it comes to the importance of 3d. I think where we are now, with standardized tests and value-added models, is a long leap from the place where Ms Danielson envisioned her framework. In Tennessee, there is this movement to scale back the importance of assessments, but the assessments being used still do not measure up to what Ms Danielson seems to have imagined for 3d in her framework.

“At its highest level, students themselves have had a hand in articulating the criteria (for example, of a clear oral presentation)” for any assessments used to measure their growth. That’s where Ms Danielson puts 3d in the 2013 edition of the framework. And she puts it there for our very best classroom teachers, the most effective ones. Nothing like that ever happened with NCLB, VAM, PARCC, Common Core, or Race to the Top! Yet those are the important qualities of any assessments the framework says should be used in instruction, and they sound much more like formative assessments to me.

For the record, the use of value-added models for teacher evaluation effectively began in Tennessee, as agricultural scientist William Sanders in the 1980s, based on his experience, “assumed that it was possible to hold all other variables constant and attribute the rise or fall of test scores to teachers,” Diane Ravitch wrote on her blog. “Most social scientists understand that children are not corn, and it is impossible to hold all other variables constant.”

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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