Bruno: Looking For VAM Alternatives
The recent outrage over the publication of individual teacher value-added scores was, in my view, totally justified since that sort of data dump obscures more than it illuminates for the public, and at substantial cost to the teachers involved.
What I didn't hear much of in the hubbub, however, were recommendations for a positive agenda to avoid similar sorts of fiascoes in the future. If, like many commentators seem to do, you take it for granted that the publication of VAM scores was primarily an act of intentional malice toward teachers, then it's admittedly hard to see a way to avoid similar battles in the future. My own sense, though, is that VAM scores are being published in large part because there is a very real hunger for objective measures of teacher quality and nobody else is doing a very good job of satisfying that demand.
To be clear, I have heard a number of arguments about how the process of teacher evaluation could be improved, for example through peer review or incorporating "multiple measures". Those might or might not be good ideas, but I think they fail to scratch the teacher evaluation itch for most people because they mostly neglect the content of the evaluation - that is, the metrics by which teachers will be evaluated.
VAM appeals to people because it offers a (superficially) plausible-sounding account of what makes a good teacher: student learning as measured by standardized tests. That's a too-simplistic view of teaching by far, but our profession hasn't exactly done a good job of clearly defining an alternative. I think a "best practices" approach is most promising, but there's surprisingly little agreement about what such practices might be.
Lots of teachers have opinions about good teaching, of course, but consensus is disappointingly elusive. Just in the last couple of weeks two examples of the profession's mixed messages jumped out at me.
First, Science is running a competition to promote inquiry-based instruction in classrooms. Meanwhile, researchers writing in American Educator make the case that "fully-guided" instruction is in fact superior to inquiry-based methods. Second, while the Fordham Institute lavished praise on the state of California's science content standards, a report from West Ed just weeks later suggested that middle school science education in California is weak in part because the state standards are excessively broad.
These examples represent very important, fundamental disagreements about best practices in education - more-guided vs. less-guided instruction and breadth vs. depth in content, respectively. Ideally these would be settled questions, and yet to all appearances the field of education as a whole is entirely incoherent on them. It seems to me that until we're able to implement evaluation systems that incorporate a professional consensus about best practices we're going to be fighting never-ending battles against inferior methods of evaluation.
(For the curious, I'm firmly in the guided instruction camp and mostly with Fordham on standards.) - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)