Pittsburgh, Kidney Stones, and Value Added Measurements

I think the next time I hear somebody defend using test scores to evaluate teachers with the “95% of all teachers are found to be above average using the old system therefore it must be broken” I going to scream like I do when have a kidney stone (7 last year).

Below is a letter to the editor that I submitted to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette concerning a story about the city of Pittsburgh and how it plans to be the first in the state of Pennsylvania to use test scores to evaluate teachers working in the city’s schools.

How is it possible after all the research that has been conducted on Value Added Measurements that we are still discussing using this statistical voodoo to assess a teacher’s effectiveness?  What part of “it doesn’t work and so don’t use it” escapes the intellect of our elected officials?

I ask this knowing full well that they (our elected officials) are all quite aware of this stubborn fact.  However, we have to remember that this has never been about developing a valid and reliable system of assessment for classroom teachers. This is about redistributing tax dollars to the testing and data management companies that continue to finance our elected officials who put policies in place that continue to siphon tax money right back to the testing companies.

Letter to the Editor

In Pittsburgh schools readying teacher evaluation plan published on December 31st in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Eleanor Chute reports that “Pittsburgh Public Schools is poised to become the first district to seek state approval for its teacher evaluation plan under a new state law” and that there will be a final vote on January 23rd.

I urge residents of the Pittsburgh area school district to please flood the meeting on January 23rd and demand that this waste of your tax dollars be stopped.  Evaluating teachers is such an incredible responsibility and it is clear from this article that the Pittsburgh Area School District is totally disregarding the current research on the use of Value Added Measures (VAM) and students test scores in the evaluation of teachers.

First, isn’t it telling that according to the article, “Cory Koedel, assistant professor of economics at the University of Missouri, who is a technical consultant for the district” endorsed the evaluation system.  What about researchers in education? Where are the educational measurement experts?  Where are the curriculum experts?  Where are the educational psychology experts?  Where are the child development experts? In other words: Why would Pittsburgh Public Schools put an evaluation system in place for teachers that has been endorsed by an economist?  Again, where are the education researchers and measurement experts?

The sad reality is that they are out there and have researched and published about this looming disaster and have consistently issued statements that using student test scores in Value Added Measures is extremely problematic at best. The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) in a review of Gates Foundation funded VAM research stated “that a teachers’ value-added for the state test is not strongly related to her effectiveness in a broader sense. Most notably, value-added for state assessments is correlated 0.5 or less with that for the alternative assessments, meaning that many teachers whose value-added for one test is low are in fact quite effective when judged by the other. ” And in even simpler terms.  Value Added Measurement systems will incorrectly rank teachers one out of every three times—at best.

Also, Research-Based Inclusive System of Evaluation (RISE) is a distortion of Charlotte Danielson’s original work on quality teaching.  Danielson’s qualitative system of evaluation was never meant to be merged with a invalid and unreliable quantitative evaluation system—Valued Added Measures.

This politically motivated policy will create a culture of fear for teachers and do little to improve the teaching and learning conditions for the children of Pittsburgh. Instead the most challenging schools and students in Pittsburgh will see an exodus of the most gifted teachers.

Follow Timothy D. Slekar on Twitter: www.twitter.com/slekar

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  1. In Florida, more teachers were found to be “effective” using the new evaluation systems that include up to 50% of the evaluation being made up of VAM. This may change as the state takes control of determining cut scores in the future. Teachers in Miami have still not received their evaluations for the 2011-12 school year as they wait for corrected data from the state and the union to negotiate cut scores. The new evaluation systems are in no way superior to the old systems and have only proven to be more cumbersome, incredibly inefficient and a huge waste of tax dollars during a time of fiscal austerity. Any teacher could have predicted this fiasco without the use of a multimillion dollar algorithm but no politician would ever dare ask or listen to an actual educator.

    • “Any teacher could have predicted this fiasco without the use of a multimillion dollar algorithm but no politician would ever dare ask or listen to an actual educator.”

      This is the part that is so true and burns me up. How do we get the public to understand that this is a waste of money and not a way for teachers to avoid being evaluated. It constantly comes back to to “teachers are just trying to get out of being evaluated.” This has nothing to with evaluation. This is about an attack on the public system of education and the diverting of public monies to private companies under the guise of accountability.

  2. http://www.geauxteacher.net/2012/12/no-value-in-value-added.html?m=1

    This is a recent analysis of Louisiana’s bogus VAM for teacher evaluation written into law that requires the use of student test scores for 50% of the eval. It was written so that those like me who are mathematically impaired could understand how problematic the methodology is based on a REAL example. Dr. Mercedes Schneider who wrote this would be a great guest on your radio show!


  1. [...] Added Measurement systems will incorrectly rank teachers one out of every three times—at best.” [@theChalkface, 1-2-13] Just last week, education research Dr. Mercedes K. Schneider published an excellent investigation [...]

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