Recently, I mentioned a piece by Memphis teacher and blogger Jon Alfuth. In it, he talks about the practical struggles a teacher faces in light of a heavy emphasis on value-added data. Now, he’s written more on the topic, detailing what he believes are some of the key harms of the way value-added data is used in Tennessee schools.
Here some highlights from Jon’s work:
Using value-added data in high stakes decisions creates a test-centric environment:
Faculty and department meetings turn into strategy sessions on how to game the tests and achieve minimum proficiency rates. Teachers are asked to create lists of which kids will make it and who won’t.
In Tennessee, for example, the entire month before TCAP becomes solely devoted to prepping students for the state test in many high-need schools.
Alfuth notes that this relentless focus on testing and VAM scores leads to some very dissatisfied teachers (not to mention, the likely dissatisfaction of students).
The over-reliance on VAM drives good teachers away from where they are most needed:
The bigger problem that I’ve seen is high quality teachers leaving high needs schools because of how we use standardized testing. I’ve seen colleagues choose to leave kids that they love because they don’t believe their career can survive if they teach at a high need school. They reason (correctly, I believe) that if they stay at such a school for too long, there’s no way they’ll be able to maintain the high test scores needed to continue their career.
Using VAM for high stakes decision-making hurts students:
First, Alfuth notes, when teachers leave high need schools because of fears of low VAM scores, they are often repaced by untested, novice teachers who need time to develop. A constant churn of new teachers who are developing doesn’t create the stability and solid teaching environment needed by students in the highest-need schools.
Alfuth goes on to point out a more insidious practice that also results in part from a high stakes focus on VAM:
As I’ve already referenced, some schools instruct teachers to identify a certain number of students to achieve proficiency and focus only on them at the expense of others. Some schools suspend these “other” students continually. Some expel them outright to send them elsewhere (this is NOT just limited to charter schools!). More often than not, these students are “left behind” as a result of this emphasis on testing where resources get funneled to their colleagues who show more potential. This is difficult to see because so often it happens under the radar, but I can assure readers that it does occur frequently enough to be worthy of note.
Here again, Alfuth points out that while VAM provides some useful information for teachers, its current use is problematic in practice. I’m looking forward to his next piece where he says he will make recommendations for how VAM should be used in schools.
For more from Jon Alfuth, follow @BluffCityEd