A good laugh—a sigh—and a revolutionary suggestion

The Good Laugh

Did you catch Matthew Di Carlo’s perfect April Fools’ Day piece on “Measuring Journalist Quality”? Observing that journalists have been leading the way in “outing” teachers based on unreliable value-added measures (VAMs), Di Carlo flips the picture. What if journalists were measured by similarly unstable “reader-added models” (RAMs)?

The Sigh

Like all fine satire, Di Carlo’s piece carries serious heft.

Many VAM systems determine teaching quality on the basis of a one-time estimate of a gain score based on students’ performance on a single multiple-choice, standardized test. And researchers have pointed out that even the most sophisticated value-added calculations produce substantial errors: as many as one in four teachers is misidentified as effective or ineffective.

In a recent study of VAM, Heather Hill, Laura Kapitula, and Kristin Umland warned: “Although we do recommend the use of value-added scores in combination with discriminating observation systems, evidence presented here suggests that value-added scores alone are not sufficient to identify teachers for reward, remediation, or removal.”

Sobering—especially when VAM systems are being used to make or break teachers’ reputations.

I’m cheered by the fact that the Measures of Effective Teaching project, sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is assembling an array of measures that reflect the complexity of teaching. And Bill Gates, of late, has written his own eloquent plea for journalists to cease their “shameful” approach of using VAM rankings to identify which teachers are effective or not, irrespective of the rating’s accuracy.

Meanwhile, it’s important to note that teachers aren’t opposed to being held accountable. In fact, many teacher leaders we work with are eager for their profession to be more results-oriented.

Teachers are even open to VAM as an element of a comprehensive teacher development and evaluation system. What disturbs them is the idea of VAM as a predominant, automatic marker of their effectiveness—especially if today’s inadequate assessments are its basis.

The Revolutionary Suggestion

Our nation’s schools could cling to the limitations of VAMs, passing swift judgments based on questionable data. Or—prepare yourself for the revolutionary—we could invest in teacher leadership to develop a comprehensive teacher development and evaluation system. (A recent paper, commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, makes this argument.)

We could draw on the expertise of accomplished teachers to craft better student assessments, additional evaluation measures (like peer observation), and systems that support the professional growth of all teachers (whether in their first year or their twentieth).

Teachers are well-suited to inform teacher development and evaluation. They understand the nuances of the work they do each day—and can help create equally nuanced systems for gauging and supporting teaching effectiveness. They grasp the complexity of their profession.

Do we get a Day-After-April-Fools’-Day wish? If so, here’s mine: that more journalists grasp the complexity of teaching (and the potential of teacher leadership, too).

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