“VAM” is Intimidation by Mathematics

A very perceptive article by the head of Math for America on what’s wrong with the new fad involving “Value-Added Measurement.”

You can read the entire article here:

http://www.ams.org/notices/201105/rtx110500667p.pdf

A few excerpts:

[T]he most common misuse of mathematics is […] mathematics employed as a rhetorical weapon-an intellectual credential to convince the public that an idea or a process is “objective” and hence better than other competing ideas or processes. This is mathematical intimidation. It is especially persuasive because so many people are awed by mathematics and yet do not understand it – a dangerous combination.

The latest instance of the phenomenon is valued-added modeling (VAM), used to interpret test data. Value-added modeling pops up everywhere today, from newspapers to television to political campaigns. VAM is heavily promoted with unbridled and uncritical enthusiasm by the press, by politicians, and even by (some) educational experts, and it is touted as the modern, “scientific” way to measure educational success in everything from charter schools to individual teachers.

Yet most of those promoting value-added modeling are ill-equipped to judge either its effectiveness or its limitations. Some of those who are equipped make extravagant claims without much detail, reassuring us that someone has checked into our concerns and we shouldn’t worry. Value-added modeling is promoted because it has the right pedigree – because it is based on “sophisticated mathematics”. As a consequence, mathematics that ought to be used to illuminate ends up being used to intimidate. When that happens, mathematicians have a responsibility to speak out.


		
Published in: on May 4, 2011 at 9:48 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Great article. Thanks for posting it. I read through it via the link you provided, and it clearly summarizes (in layman’s terms) the reasons that we should be wary of relying on VAM to evaluate teachers, including that the VAM scores of individual teachers fluctuate widely from year to year, and that heavy emphasis on tests leads to ‘teaching to the test’ without increasing real knowledge.

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  2. I like the use of the word “intimidation.” Captures what’s happening perfectly.

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