VAM Scores Raise Concerns, Criticisms and Questions on Teacher Effectiveness

By: Allison Nielsen | Posted: February 24, 2014 3:15 PM

Reports on teacher effectiveness in the Sunshine State were released Monday after the Florida Education Association lost a lawsuit with the Florida Times-Union. The Jacksonville-based newspaper wanted the department to release the records so the public could determine the quality of Florida’s teachers.

The Florida Department of Education’s value-added model -- or VAM system -- is a metric which measures public school teachers’ individual value to student progress throughout the year. As a result of the lawsuit, Florida parents are now able to see exactly how the system works in assessing the state's teachers.

The VAM system uses a formula that takes students’ scores on reading and math tests to evaluate teacher contributions or “value added” that a teacher provides each year. The model tries to predict how each student will improve year over year using this formula.

School districts have been receiving VAM data since 2011 and the data can reflect student test score growth from one, two or three academic years.

VAM scores can be important for teachers -- districts use them for 40 percent to 50 percent of teachers’ annual evaluations, which can ultimately decide whether a teacher keeps his/her job or gets the boot.

According to a Times-Union analysis of the data, the report showed about 58 percent of school districts last year saw most of their teachers receive aggregated scores below statewide averages.

Their analysis also found the majority of teachers in Northeast Florida school districts were scored above the average and seven of the 10 schools with the highest VAM scores were located in Miami-Dade County.

In a letter to teachers, Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart warned that the information and individual teacher names could be publicly posted by media outlets, but also said the department does not intend to post the teacher information on its website. Instead, the DOE will only provide the data to parties to the lawsuit and those making public-record requests for the information.

The score release has brought a wave of controversy and criticism from the Florida Education Association, whose members took to Twitter on Monday to voice their concerns over the data.

“The VAM data is an expensive boondoggle that is taking money from the classroom,” FEA tweeted, calling the data “worthless.”

“It is ludicrous to try to determine the value of a teacher using a formula that is comprehensible only to a small number of statisticians,” the FEA wrote in its talking points for union leaders. “With the problems that the DOE has been having with data on testing and school grades, we have little confidence in these complex figures used to determine a teacher’s evaluation.”

In a call Monday, the DOE’s chief of staff Kathy Hebda explained that VAM scores were only part of teacher evaluations.

“Looking at this information in isolation can lead to misunderstandings about a teacher's overall performance,” she said.

The FEA also criticized the scores because they rely on reading, math and algebra 1 scores for students, noting that some teachers who teach other subjects (like biology and chemistry) are scored based on classes they don’t even teach.

The numbers, they say, are not to be trusted.

“Parents, teachers and the public don’t trust the ever-changing numbers coming from DOE with regard to testing and school grading,” said the FEA. “Why should they trust the more complex figures coming from the same department as it relates to the evaluations of more than 180,000 Florida public school teachers?”

The department has promised that changes are on the way, with some state rules giving districts more leeway to choose how they’ll measure student growth for teachers who teach subjects not tested under the FCAT.

But once the state says goodbye to the FCAT, it’s uncertain what the effect will be on the state’s VAM scores. Florida is preparing to transition into the Florida Standards (based off of the Common Core State Standards) by the 2014-2015 school year, and it’s unclear what effect the new assessment test will have on Florida’s VAM scores.

Sunshine State News will have the full report on individual grades at a later date. 

Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen at or follow her on Twitter at @AllisonNielsen. 

Comments (1)

Pam Smith
7:40PM FEB 24TH 2014
I find this to be a very dissapointing article. How can we judge teachers when this system of assessing them is so flawed? Not to mention to make the findings public...even knowing that they are so flawed, sad. It will feed the negative people more negative food for thought...and it will bring down the hearts and souls of so many great teachers who deserve better than this crap. If you are going to measure have to weigh so many variables. Too many really. Health, attendance, family life, participation, poverty, how does the school make up their classes? Are they leveled? Then how do they measure the growth of a low class vs. a high class if it's all to one standard...who will ever teach those low classes if this is the result...a shaming in public!? What parent will want a teacher that comes out inaffective, and after all, doesn't the input of the administration have a huge contribution to this VAM model? Doesn't those 2 minute drive bys in the classrooms also affect the effectiveness of a teacher? I mean, doesn't that make sense? I will come in your office and see what you do in 5 minutes and then write up an evaluation of you. Very subjective. What happens if the bosses sister or bestie needs a job? What happens if your a whistle blower? You think your job is safe because you care about children and families? I think NOT. God help parents and kids these days. They will need it. Why go to school? Just become a'll make money and people will love you 24/7. Teachers are not well liked, always questioned, and make crappy money. Oh, and they are educated.
Be an athlete....
You can still be a criminal, beat your wife, use horrible language, I mean...the world is your oyster.

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