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C'est la Z

VamVoom - Turning teachers into rubble

Earlier today I saw a friend's Facebook post questioning the sanity of common core math. He had an issue with the way his daughter was being forced to work out problems. A few of us chimed in with our low op pinion on Common Core, others said they thought it was a good idea. I think the fact that my buddy was questioning it is a major strike against CC. This guy isn't just a friend, he's a math teacher. Maybe the best one I know. In fact, he's the teacher I aspire to be. If he's got a problem with how math is taught, he's probably right.

I made a comment also referring to VAM - the idea that teachers should be evaluated by "Value added Measures" - that is, student test scores. Another friend asked about it. I thought I'd write my response up here.

This is just my opinion - I've read a number of pieces over the past couple of years and the facts to back up any assertions I'm making should be pretty easy to find by searching the web.

The idea

VAM is all about evaluating teachers based on standardized tests. In our case, we're talking NY State common core and regents exams. The idea is to tie teacher ratings, and in some cases licensing to these tests.

The exams

Let's start with the problems with the exams. There's been a fair amount of discussion over the past couple of years with regards to age appropriateness and over testing. I'm not going to talk about them. Let's just look at two things.

The gag order

Teachers aren't allowed to talk about common core tests. The questions, scoring, grading - everything is a secret. Methinks Pearson and NY State has something to hide. The party line is that then questions can be reused - I'm calling BS on this.

I've been teaching 25 years. I give about 12 exams a year per class plus quizzes, homework, and other assessments. None of them are secret and somehow I manage as does every other teacher.

By keeping everything a secret there's no accountability. Politicians love to talk about accountability and transparency as long as it's for others.

The scoring

Back in the day, regents exams were given and scored. Old exams were public as was the scoring. If you got over a 65 you passed.

Now, your exam is graded and then only after the fact, when the numbers are in, does the state decide how to map raw scores to final grades. Basically, the state can decide how many kids pass and by how much and they do this after the fact.

Sound fishy and susceptible to political influence?

The evaluations

So, the exams that VAM's based on are already suspect. Let's dig further. At Stuy, 40% of teacher evaluations are from standardized tests. If you teach one of the magic subjects - English, Math, maybe History - 20% of your results are based on your students results and 20% on the school or departmental results.

On the other hand, if you're like me and don't teach regents classes, 40% of my rating is based on exams in subjects I don't even teach.

Even if you could evaluate a teacher based on student exams, surely you can't judge a computer science teacher based on another teacher's students English exam scores.

On top of this, the formula is another one of those state secrets. It's not public and it's worked out after the fact. The state can basically look at all the numbers and then decide where to put the cutoffs.

More problems

They abound. Here are a few:

Just about all of my kids do very well on the AP Computer Science exam. Am I a good teacher because they all do well or a bad one since they don't improve.

What about the kid that doesn't do particularly well but ends up ultimately becoming a computer professional. I've had a number of graduates that fit this bill that have credited me with setting the spark. According to the system those students are failures as am I.

What about kids that don't have the same teacher all year? Those that already know the subject? Family factors?

On top of this, people, like my friend and colleague Gary Rubinstein have shown that VAM scores vary wildly and there have been numerous reports showing that evaluating teacher based on student test scores doesn't work and is just a bad idea.

The bottom line

VAM is just another reason I can't recommend teaching to pretty much anyone.

Teacher's aren't against being evaluated, we just want a fair and meaningful evaluation and more importantly a structure that can help us do better.

The title

So, for the title, I keep seeing Vavoom - a character from "Felix the Cat" that could level mountains with a single VAVOOM

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