Take Me Out [of the VAM] Game

Growing up in Canarsie, Brooklyn as a die-hard Mets fan, I collected baseball cards.  Piles and boxes of wonderful statistics, much to my mother’s chagrin, littered my bedroom.  These cards served as my baseball library as each one painted a picture and told a story of a player’s season.  I would consistently pore over the numbers, studying the effective from the ineffective players; gleaning who had a “career” year and others that produced a down year.  And, in an era before satellite and cable television, I was informed about players I rarely saw hit or pitch, just by studying these easy to understand statistics.  Admittedly, a complete player picture is not derived from these statistics.  Players could argue that their use of strategies, their ability to work on deficiencies, and the many nuances of the game are not represented in these numbers.  Overall, I would agree since watching players perform gives me a more complete picture of each players’ abilities, but the statistics on his card present a portrait or snapshot of his career.

Now, I imagine myself on a baseball card, or in this case, I would call it my teacher card.  On the front, it would show me in action, teaching a lesson, conferencing with a student on their writing, or even sharing a laugh with an eighth grader.  The back of my card would have my statistic, my Value-Added Model number, and I wonder what story it would tell?  Well, last season, my VAM score was a 27.10.  This number is not easy to understand, I can’t calculate it on my own, nor does it illuminate my strengths or weaknesses.  Additionally, it takes approximately four months for computers, mathematicians, calculators, abacuses, and quite possibly the counting of fingers and toes to deliver this Value-Added Model score to educators.

The Value-Added Model number, according to my school district, is a statistical measure indicating the contribution a teacher has toward a student’s learning.  Therefore, I contributed 27.10 to my students’ learning.  This number makes up 40% of my overall evaluation score with the remaining 60% from my written observation evaluations.  The only thing I truly know about my VAM score is that the higher it is, the better my students performed on standardized assessments.  If baseball cards only showed one statistic titled “player effect on the team” giving players a number based on their performances that was otherwise virtually impossible to calculate, my mother would have had fewer piles of statistics to gripe about.

I often wonder if we are attempting to mathematically quantify effective teaching when that is impossible.  There are just too many variables, facets, nuances, and conditions of teaching to accurately paint a picture of a teacher’s school year using a number.  Educators need to be measured by their implementation of best classroom practices, through observations, as evidence of working in their students’ best interests.  As a classroom teacher, when I undergo an evaluation observation, I get to dialogue with my evaluator and reflect on what I would improve while discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the lesson itself.  The process is a learning experience.  My Value-Added Model score is not.

Rob Kriete, Teacher Leader & Baseball Star

I’m confident the sharing of my Value-Added Model score does not help anyone understand the effectiveness of my classroom teaching; yet, if given the opportunity to observe my classroom, that young adults are thinking, learning and collaborating would be evident.  Transparent classrooms will improve teaching, not a “magical” number.

When (or if) the day arrives that my beloved Metropolitans, in their orange and blue, win the World Series, I will be able to reference their baseball cards and immediately understand how they effectively hit and pitched their way there.  When my students achieve success beyond my classroom, my VAM score offers no clue or insight into how I helped them.

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