One of many nails in the VAM coffin….

Following up on the previous post, this via Better Living Through Mathematics

If you’ve read the American Statistical Association’s position on the dangers of evaluating teacher performance based on the “Value-Added Model,” you’re probably wondering how they arrived at this very sobering conclusion. As Albert Einstein was alleged to have stated, “Not everything that counts is countable, and not everything that is countable counts.” In this case, AMSTAT took that advice to heart and so strongly inveighed against VAM that they essentially labeled it a form of statistical malpractice.

In this post, I’m going to examine one of the studies that no doubt had a profound impact on the members of AMSTAT that led them to this radical (but self-evident) conclusion. In 2012, the researcher C. Kirabo Jackson at Northwestern University published a “working paper” for the National Bureau of Economic Research, a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization dedicated to promoting a greater understanding of how the economy works (I’m quoting here from their website.) The paper, entitled “Non-Cognitive Ability, Test Scores, and Teacher Quality: Evidence from 9th Grade Teachers in North Carolina” questions the legitimacy of evaluating a teacher based on his/her students’ test scores. Actually, it is less about “questioning” and more about “decimating” and “annihilating” the practice of VAM.

I downloaded the paper and have been reading it for the past few days. Jackson clearly has done his homework, and this paper is extremely dense in statistical analysis which is rooted in data collected by the National Educational Longitudinal Study 1988, which began with 8th graders who were surveyed on a range of educational issues as described below:

On the questionnaire, students reported on a range of topics including: school, work, and home experiences; educational resources and support; the role in education of their parents and peers; neighborhood characteristics; educational and occupational aspirations; and other student perceptions. Additional topics included self-reports on smoking, alcohol and drug use and extracurricular activities. For the three in-school waves of data collection (when most were eighth-graders, sophomores, or seniors), achievement tests in reading, social studies, mathematics and science were administered in addition to the student questionnaire.

To further enrich the data, students’ teachers, parents, and school administrators were also surveyed. Coursework and grades from students’ high school and postsecondary transcripts are also available in the restricted use dataset – although some composite variables have been made available in the public use file.

The survey was followed up in 1990, 1992, 1994 and 2000, which means that it began when students were just about to begin their high school career, and then followed up when they were in 10th and 12th grades, and followed them through post-high school, college and postgraduate life. It is one of the most statistically valid sample sets of educational outcomes available.

What should be noted is that Jackson is not an educational researcher, per se. Jackson was trained in economics at Harvard and Yale and is an Associate Professor of Human Development and Social Policy. His interest is in optimizing measurement systems, not taking positions on either side of the standardized testing debate. Although this paper should reek with indignation and anger, it makes it’s case using almost understated tone and is filled with careful phrasing like “more than half of teachers who would improve long run outcomes may not be identified using test scores alone,” and “one might worry that test-based accountability may induce teachers to divert effort away from improving students’ non-cognitive skills in order to improve test scores.”

But lets get to the meat of the matter, because this paper is 42 pages long and incorporates mind-boggling statistical techniques that account for every variable one might want to filter out to answer the question: are test scores enough to judge the effectiveness of a teacher? Jackson’s unequivocal conclusion: no, not even remotely.

The first thing Jackson does is review a model that divides the results of education into two dimensions: the cognitive effects, which can be measured by test results, and the non-cognitive effects, which are understood to be socio-behavioral outcomes, which when combined, determine adult outcomes. To paraphrase the old Charlie the Tuna commercial, it’s more than whether we want adults that test good – we also want them to be good adults. Clearly, Jackson is aiming a little higher than those who would believe that test scores are the end result of “good teaching.” He’s focusing on what “non-cognitive” effects a teacher can have on a student, which includes things like diminishing their rates of truancy and suspensions, improving their grades (which are different from test scores) and helping increase the likelihood that they will attend college.

Which poses the less than obvious question: if teachers have an effect on both cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes, are they correlated or independent? That is, if a teacher is effective in raising test scores, will that lead to less truancy, fewer suspensions, better grades and less grade retention? Even more interesting is the idea that teachers could be more effective on one scale while being low on the other: is it possible for a teacher to be very effective at improving a student’s non-cognitive functioning while not having an effect on his/her test scores?

By page 4, Jackson’s paper starts to draw blood: using the results of the NELS 1988, Jackson concludes that a standard deviation increase in non-cognitive ability in 8th grade is associated with fewer arrests and suspensions, more college-going and better wages than the same standard deviation improvement in test scores. It’s almost as if Jackson is telling us, “hey, 8th grade teachers: want to improve your students future life? Spend less time on test prep and more time helping them show up at school, staying out of trouble and improving their actual grades.”

This alone would be enough of a takeaway, but this incredibly dense paper continues to hammer away at any thought that test scores are meaningful in any way: in the same paragraph, Jackson states that a teacher’s effect on college-going and wages may be as much as three times larger than predicted based on test scores alone. HFS! Oh, and just to make things more interesting, it is followed by this statement: “As such, more than half of teachers who would improve long run outcomes may not be identified using test scores alone.”

To summarize, we’re only in the middle of page 4 of this paper, and we’ve already learned the following:

a) Teachers have an effect on both cognitive skills of their students, and non-cognitive skills of their students. The first leads to higher test scores, the second leads to more college going, fewer arrests and better wages.

b) In 8th grade, non-cognitive achievement is a better predictor of college going and higher wages, as well as fewer arrests and suspensions, than test scores.

c) A teacher’s effect on these “non-cognitive” outcomes is as much as 300% greater than can be measured using test scores.

But wait, there’s more!

Okay, I’m only below the middle of page 4, and already I’ve read three conclusions that essentially kill off any legitimacy to judging a teacher’s effectiveness based on test scores, and the good stuff has even gotten started!

What Jackson is up to in his paper is something bigger, way bigger: it would be possible to argue at this point that somehow cognitive and non-cognitive skills, while both responsible in some part to positive adult outcomes, are still correlated; that is, if you improve the test scores, the other non-cognitive stuff will come along as a bonus. This is where Jackson goes for the jugular, and, as is typical of research papers, he essentially “buries the lead.”

“This paper presents the first evidence that teachers have meaningful effects on non cognitive outcomes that are strongly associate with adult outcomes and are not correlated with test scores.” (Emphasis mine, italics his, by the way.)

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Nations Top Statisticians Question Use of Value-Add

The American Statistical Association (ASA) the nationas leading group of statisticians recently released a statement of Valuee-add, that calls into question the whole premise of using this statistical measure for the purposes of evaluating teachers job performance. Their comments below:

  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 classroom 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.

You can read their whole document below.

ASA Statement on Using Value-Added Models for Educational Assessment

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Living in John Kasich's Ohio

Via Ohioans united

One of the best things we can do for every child is to see that he or she has a quality education. That’s something that will put them on a path to a bright future. Properly-funded public schools are essential if we are to ensure that all children – no matter where they live or who their parents are- receive the education they deserve. That’s why it is so disheartening to see Gov. Kasich shifting millions and millions of dollars from public schools into failing charter schools.

And remember – every dollar given to a failing charter school is a dollar less for traditional public schools. Since taking office, Kasich has cut more than half a billion dollars in state funding for public schools. The result is over 90% of public schools have had to make cuts, including teachers and course offerings.

To me, as a teacher and a mom, it is the height of irresponsibility for the governor to be taking money out of a system that provides a quality education to Ohio’s children and shift the funds into schools that are failing at an alarming rate. Ohio’s kids deserve better.

That’s why I’ve joined with Ohioans United to get the word out about Gov. Kasich’s harmful education policy. Watch the ad below and share it with your friends and family to make sure they know the truth about John Kasich’s record.

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So-Called Right to Work Is Still Wrong for Workers

Via HuffPo

The course is even more tenuous for ALEC and its supporters in the other states, with Ohio looking at a possible state constitutional amendment being placed on the November ballot while proposed measures in Maine and Pennsylvania appear to be the least likely to be approved.

There are many reasons for this. Despite what corporate cronies claim, so-called right-to-work doesn't create an environment that is good for workers or companies. In fact, a recent quality of life report released by Politico found the bottom five states -- Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee and Alabama -- are right-to-work states. Meanwhile, four out of five with the highest quality of living -- New Hampshire, Minnesota, Vermont and Massachusetts -- are free bargaining states.

Right-to-work is a ruse. These laws depress wages, resulting in workers making about $1,500 less than those living in non-RTW states. They are also more likely not to receive health insurance and more likely to work in a dangerous workplace. In addition, it is proven not to be a deciding factor in where businesses locate.

Lawmakers must resist the cheap corporate rhetoric pushed by ALEC and others that makes right-to-work seem like a solution. It isn't. All it seems to help create is less pay, less freedom in the workplace and maybe most important of all, a smaller middle class. If that's seen by some as progress, government should be taking a pass on it.

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Teacher Supply and Demand in Ohio

The Ohio Education Research Center has just published an interesting report titled "2013 Teacher Supply and Demand in Ohio". Among its findings are:
Retirement rule changes have already resulted in major declines in teacher stocks. On average in Ohio, 6,000 teachers retire each year according to STRS annual reports. It is anticipated that high levels of retirement among teachers and administrators with 35+ years of service will continue. Retirement rates will likely level off and fall after July 2015 reflecting tighter eligibility requirements and less generous benefits. Mid-career teachers and administrators will find themselves “locked into” the system with less attractive retirement options making departures less likely. This is due to substantial pension wealth losses created by leaving the system early, especially if inflation accelerates. If low interest rates continue, further benefit reductions may be necessary.

The supply of new teacher license holders in Ohio varies across grade ranges and subject areas. Over a quarter of all new teachers licensed in Ohio in 2012 were in early childhood or prekindergarten through 3rd grade indicating a disproportionately large supply of early childhood teachers relative to teachers in the 4-12 grade range. Relatively few new teachers are trained in math and science compared to those trained in language arts and social studies.

There is a shift moving students and teachers from private schools to community schools. Private school enrollments and number of teachers are shrinking, while the number of community schools is growing. The first community schools were created in Ohio in 1998. Today they comprise slightly less than 10% of Ohio’s entire educational system. The number of people holding licenses for highly-skilled administrative jobs outnumbers the actual positions in Ohio. There are roughly five people who hold a superintendent license for every superintendent job, three people who hold a principal license for every principal position, and about two people who hold a financial license for every treasurer position. This oversupply has caused inflation adjusted administrative pay to fall over time.

Many people trained as teachers never become licensed. One sixth of graduates with a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in education were never licensed to teach in Ohio within five years of graduation.
Teacher supply is a big problem. Not only are many Ed graduates not becoming teachers, but many teachers quit within their first 5 years. Couple this with the uneven distribution of teachers across grades and subjects and one can see it is a problem that needs addressed. Instead what we have from law makers are policies designed to drive out even more teachers from the profession, and make the profession as unattractive to prospective new educators as possible. Provisions included in the Ohio House's substitute SB229 bill are obvious examples of this. The sub. bill added language that “prohibits a school district from assigning students to a teacher who has been rated “ineffective” for two consecutive school years”. the measure of being ineffective of course being the highly flawed and unstable OTES.

The report also notes that poor quality charter schools are driving out private schools. No doubt many parents are see charter schools as a fully funded private schooling system, rather than an alternative to traditional public schools. Given how charter schools are secretly operating their finances and increasingly being run by for-profit management companies, this isn't an erroneous assumption. What is erroneous however is the quality of the education being delivered by most charter schools in Ohio.

The financial mismanagement of charter schools has become so prevalent, even the dysfunctional Ohio General Assembly are beginning to notice
Democrats in the Ohio House and Senate pledged yesterday to introduce legislation that would require more transparency and accountability for operators and sponsors of charter schools.

Sen. Joe Schiavoni, of Boardman, and Rep. John Patrick Carney, of Columbus, said they will introduce companion bills in coming days. If approved, the legislation would provide the public with details about how privately operated charter schools spend the millions in tax dollars they receive each year.

“In 1998, there were only 15 charter schools in Ohio. Those 15 charters received $11 million in state funding. Today we spend $900 million on nearly 400 charter schools,” Schiavoni, the Senate minority leader, said at a Statehouse news conference.

“The growing problem is we don’t know how most of these taxpayer dollars are being spent.”

You can read the entire Ohio Education Research Center report here.

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What Makes This Time Different? It’s Not a Pendulum, It’s a Guillotine

Submitted by 4th grade teacher, Diane Valentino

I’ve only been a teacher for 23 years, but have been around long enough to teach through an impressive number of shifts in educational methods and doctrine. All of these have been well intentioned; although not all have been realistic and effective. After surviving a childhood filled with “New Math”, I burst onto the teaching scene filled with basal readers, workbooks and hand drawn bulletin boards! We were dealing with unfunded mandates and jumping through education reform hoops back then, so what is the difference now?

I’ve seen the reading pendulum swing from phonics only, to SRA’s to basal readers. The Whole Language movement reigned for quite a while, then refocused on to reading for comprehension, and other researched based programs designed to “redesign teaching”. Now, Close Reading is the newest best practice. Again, all with good intentions and always aiming at making our profession of education better. Math instruction has been reshaped, redesigned, reworked, and reimagined a hundred different ways! Skill and drill, manipulatives, MathTheir Way, Everyday, spiraling, Chicago, Singapore, are just a few of the packages I have opened and relearned, only to realize it all comes down to good teaching methods and the intuition to teach the children that are in front of you, not the ones in some far away pilot study. Good teachers have always known how to pick the best parts of all of the above and mold it into a balanced teaching program that, at the end of the day, met the needs of the 25-30 kids sitting in their classroom.

I’ve written courses of study, learning objectives, pupil performance objectives and curriculum maps. I’ve been told to stop teaching phonics, (I didn’t), only to have it come back repackaged and rebranded as “word study”. I’ve unpacked, backward designed and planned with “the end in mind”. Let’s not forget the dawn of formative assessment techniques right up to today’s world of SLO’s and data driven decisions, and finally, drumroll please…The Common Core.

Through it all, I’ve given standardized tests to my students. I’ve given the CAT, the ITBS, Terra Nova, Otis Lennon, In View, Ohio Proficiency Test, OAA’s, and I’m sure a few more in addition to those. I’ve told my students to “just do you best” when I wasn’t allowed to give clarification on questions they could easily have answered if it was formatted a different way…you, know…for different types of learners (i.e. humans). Those “why are you abandoning me?” eyes would cut through any teacher’s heart.

Then, there are the “oh so helpful” political contributions to the world of public education. From Why Johnny Can’t Read, A Nation at Risk, right up through NCLB, and now, today’s Race To The Top, STEM and PARCC. Throw in anything that the Koch’s have contributed and you have “the perfect storm”. I’ve seen unfunded mandates, endured Education Governors, and watched as my profession has been thrown under the big yellow bus so many times we have permanent tire tracks running down our backsides.

I’ve been paid less than, and have been teased by “business professionals” who asked why I stayed in teaching when their quarterly bonuses were the size of my annual salary? (1990’s) Fast forward a few years, and I was told I make too much money “just for being a teacher”, by those same business professionals that boomed and lost their fair weather fortunes. I’ve had my future pension gambled away by an unregulated market only to be blamed by local and state governments that my pension is bankrupting the municipality.

SO WHAT IS DIFFERENT THIS TIME?

Why am I so enraged and afraid for the actual existence of Public Education?

The first punch in the face comes from a little known (to the general public that doesn’t take interest in politics…) 2010 Supreme Court Decision called “Citizen’s United”. This gave corporations the same “rights” as people when it comes to contributing to political campaigns. This means, corporations can, in fact, contribute to lawmakers campaigns and EXPECT payment back in the forms of laws that divert public money into said corporations.

Enter face punch #2: What better marketplace than a 500 billion dollar U.S. Education market? As the Education Reform corporations (Pearson, Gates Foundation, Achieve, In-Bloom, White Hat, SAT, Venture, etc.), lick their chops at the thought of getting a piece of 500 billion dollar pie, a generation of students is being used, abused and spit back out into a world that expects them to be “college and career ready”. It seems clear to see that the corporate “formula for success” is to rig the education game by buying laws that allow education reformers to create a formula that ensures public schools fail, (happening RIGHT NOW), while EXEMPTING private schools from some of the same rules, then make a financial killing on “for profit” schools.

It seems so simple. Why aren’t parents, tax payers and teachers camping out on their congressman’s front lawn and demanding their elected officials stop cheating them? Do they really think it will save tax dollars? If they do believe that, then they probably believe that state lotteries “fund” education and senior programs. FOLLOW THE MONEY. This is not the same old game. This time it’s different.

Diane Valentino
4th Grade Teacher
Twitter: @d_val1

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