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BESE should review teacher evaluation model, LFT says

(Baton Rouge – October 14, 2013) The teacher evaluation system known as the Value Added Model is dangerously flawed, and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education should seriously consider three items on its Educator Effectiveness Committee meeting Tuesday afternoon, according to the Louisiana Federation of Teachers.

“The Value Added Model was imposed before it was properly tested, even though most people still haven’t a clue as to what it is, how it works, and what it is supposed to measure,” Federation President Steve Monaghan said.

The VAM-related items ask three important, related questions about the evaluation instrument, Monaghan said.

“Is the Value Added Model a valid instrument for measuring teacher effectiveness?” Monaghan asked. “This is a formula that was originally developed to increase the profitability of sweet potato farms. Some respected mathematicians believe that Value Added formulae have margins of error better than 30 percent. If that is true, then it is simply wrong to judge our teachers, our schools and our students by such a shaky instrument

One of the items on the committee agenda calls for a panel of “statisticians and mathematicians to research the reliability and validity of the Compass Value-Added Model.”

“Given the number of experts who have questioned the Value Added Model,” Monaghan said, “this is a most reasonable request. It should have been done a long time ago."

A second item on the agenda will question the superintendent of education’s authority “to waive a select group of teachers’ Value-Added Model (VAM) scores, otherwise considered as a part of their Compass evaluations, along with the rationale for such waivers.”

“One state court has already ruled that Louisiana’s evaluation law violates a teacher’s right to due process,” Monaghan said. “Teachers evaluated under VAM have no way to legally challenge the scores imposed on them, and yet an unknown number of scores have apparently been either waived or otherwise adjusted."

The LFT president said that no written policies have been developed by the Department of Education to guide the issuance of waivers by either the superintendent or the department.

“Is there a justification in the law for granting some waivers or allowing some adjustments, but not others?” Monaghan asked. “If so, what are the criteria? How can such practices do anything other than erode teacher and public confidence in the system itself?  We need a clear explanation  as to how and why waivers and/or adjustments to VAM scores have been made. This explanation should begin with a report documenting the number of scores affected by interventions at any level of administration.

“It would be wrong,” Monaghan said, “to change individual outcomes of the evaluations in order to mask structural flaws in the evaluation instrument.”

The final VAM item on the committee agenda “requests trainings be offered to stakeholders to provide a detailed explanation of the Value-Added Model (VAM) formula and sample computations, as a means to provide stakeholders with a better understanding of VAM results.”

“As professionals, teachers have a right to be informed,” Monaghan said. “If this is the way they are to be evaluated, they need to know how the instrument works. As with so many of these reforms, teachers have not been provided with the information they need to navigate an extremely complex evaluation system.

"It's a sad fact that the expression, 'They're building the plane while it is in the air' is more than a cliché in Louisiana," Monaghan observed.

The framers of the law that created the Value Added Model, Act 54 of 2010, knew that the law was very much an experiment, and promised to revisit it if it proved to be inaccurate, unfair or inappropriate, Monaghan said.

“We believe there is ample evidence that the process is indeed flawed,” Monaghan said. “BESE needs to take the first steps toward correcting those flaws today by approving these three agenda items.”

The committee is slated to begin its meeting at 1:00 P.M. on Tuesday. However, rules allow it to begin up to one-half hour earlier than scheduled. It may also begin later than scheduled if earlier meetings run over their time limit.