Texas Decision Slams Value Added Measurements

And it does so for many of the reasons that I have been advocating. I am going to quote the entirety of Diane Ravitch’s column on this:

Audrey Amrein-Beardsley of Arizona State University is one of the nation’s most prominent scholars of teacher evaluation. She is especially critical of VAM (value-added measurement); she has studied TVAAS, EVAAS, and other similar metrics and found them deeply flawed. She has testified frequently in court cases as an expert witness.

In this post, she analyzes the court decision that blocks the use of VAM to evaluate teachers in Houston. The misuse of VAM was especially egregious in Houston, which terminated 221 teachers in one year, based on their VAM scores.

This is a very important article. Amrein-Beardsley and Jesse Rothstein of the University of California testified on behalf of the teachers; Tom Kane (who led the Gates’ Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Study) and John Friedman (of the notorious Chetty-Friedman-Rockoff study) testified on behalf of the district.

Amrein-Beardsley writes:

Of primary issue will be the following (as taken from Judge Smith’s Summary Judgment released yesterday): “Plaintiffs [will continue to] challenge the use of EVAAS under various aspects of the Fourteenth Amendment, including: (1) procedural due process, due to lack of sufficient information to meaningfully challenge terminations based on low EVAAS scores,” and given “due process is designed to foster government decision-making that is both fair and accurate.”

Related, and of most importance, as also taken directly from Judge Smith’s Summary, he wrote:

HISD’s value-added appraisal system poses a realistic threat to deprive plaintiffs of constitutionally protected property interests in employment.

HISD does not itself calculate the EVAAS score for any of its teachers. Instead, that task is delegated to its third party vendor, SAS. The scores are generated by complex algorithms, employing “sophisticated software and many layers of calculations.” SAS treats these algorithms and software as trade secrets, refusing to divulge them to either HISD or the teachers themselves. HISD has admitted that it does not itself verify or audit the EVAAS scores received from SAS, nor does it engage any contractor to do so. HISD further concedes that any effort by teachers to replicate their own scores, with the limited information available to them, will necessarily fail. This has been confirmed by plaintiffs’ expert, who was unable to replicate the scores despite being given far greater access to the underlying computer codes than is available to an individual teacher [emphasis added, as also related to a prior post about how SAS claimed that plaintiffs violated SAS’s protective order (protecting its trade secrets), that the court overruled, see here].

The EVAAS score might be erroneously calculated for any number of reasons, ranging from data-entry mistakes to glitches in the computer code itself. Algorithms are human creations, and subject to error like any other human endeavor. HISD has acknowledged that mistakes can occur in calculating a teacher’s EVAAS score; moreover, even when a mistake is found in a particular teacher’s score, it will not be promptly corrected. As HISD candidly explained in response to a frequently asked question, “Why can’t my value-added analysis be recalculated?”:

Once completed, any re-analysis can only occur at the system level. What this means is that if we change information for one teacher, we would have to re- run the analysis for the entire district, which has two effects: one, this would be very costly for the district, as the analysis itself would have to be paid for again; and two, this re-analysis has the potential to change all other teachers’ reports.

The remarkable thing about this passage is not simply that cost considerations trump accuracy in teacher evaluations, troubling as that might be. Of greater concern is the house-of-cards fragility of the EVAAS system, where the wrong score of a single teacher could alter the scores of every other teacher in the district. This interconnectivity means that the accuracy of one score hinges upon the accuracy of all. Thus, without access to data supporting all teacher scores, any teacher facing discharge for a low value-added score will necessarily be unable to verify that her own score is error-free.

HISD’s own discovery responses and witnesses concede that an HISD teacher is unable to verify or replicate his EVAAS score based on the limited information provided by HISD.

According to the unrebutted testimony of plaintiffs’ expert, without access to SAS’s proprietary information – the value-added equations, computer source codes, decision rules, and assumptions – EVAAS scores will remain a mysterious “black box,” impervious to challenge.

While conceding that a teacher’s EVAAS score cannot be independently verified, HISD argues that the Constitution does not require the ability to replicate EVAAS scores “down to the last decimal point.” But EVAAS scores are calculated to the second decimal place, so an error as small as one hundredth of a point could spell the difference between a positive or negative EVAAS effectiveness rating, with serious consequences for the affected teacher.

Hence, “When a public agency adopts a policy of making high stakes employment decisions based on secret algorithms incompatible with minimum due process, the proper remedy is to overturn the policy.”

It’s not so much that we have bad teachers (even tho they do exist): It’s an incoherent educational system that is at fault

Very interesting article in Atlantic by E.D. Hirsch on the problems facing American education. Among other things, he finds (as I do) that Value-Added Measurements are utterly unreliable and, indeed, preposterous. But most of all, he finds that the American educational system is extremely poorly run because its principal ideas lack any coherence at all.

Here are a couple of paragraphs:

The “quality” of a teacher doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Within the average American primary school, it is all but impossible for a superb teacher to be as effective as a merely average teacher is in the content-cumulative Japanese elementary school. For one thing, the American teacher has to deal with big discrepancies in student academic preparation while the Japanese teacher does not. In a system with a specific and coherent curriculum, the work of each teacher builds on the work of teachers who came before. The three Cs—cooperation, coherence, and cumulativeness—yield a bigger boost than the most brilliant efforts of teachers working individually against the odds within a system that lacks those qualities. A more coherent system makes teachers better individually and hugely better collectively.

American teachers (along with their students) are, in short, the tragic victims of inadequate theories. They are being blamed for the intellectual inadequacies behind the system in which they find themselves. The real problem is not teacher quality but idea quality. The difficulty lies not with the inherent abilities of teachers but with the theories that have watered down their training and created an intellectually chaotic school environment. The complaint that teachers do not know their subject matter would change almost overnight with a more specific curriculum with less evasion about what the subject matter of that curriculum ought to be. Then teachers could prepare themselves more effectively, and teacher training could ensure that teacher candidates have mastered the content they will be responsible for teaching.”


Bob Schaeffer’s Weekly Roundup of News on Testing Mania

This is entirely from Bob Schaeffer:


With public schools closing for the summer, many states are reviewing their 2015-2016 testing experience (once again, not a pretty picture) and planning to implement assessment reforms in coming years.  You can help stop the U.S. Department of Education from promoting testing misuse and overuse by weighing in on proposed Every Student Succeeds Act regulations.

National  Act Now to Stop Federal Regulations That Reimpose Failed No Child Left Behind Test-and-Punish Policies


State Preps for Implementing New Federal Education Law

Teacher Evaluations Could Be Less Focused on Test scores

Legal Fight Looms Over Third Grade Retention Based on Test Participation
Florida Parents Pressure School Board on Test-Use Policies

School Chief Addresses Testing Meltdown

Panel Unclear on Vision for New Assessments

State Testing Time Will Be Reduced

Feds Respond to State’s Accountability Plan Concerns

State Commission Passes Buck to Reduce Testing to Schools
Maryland Students Say Too Much Testing

Schools to Help Map Assessments of the Future

Missouri Schools Are More Than Test Scores

New York
Test Flexibility for Students with Learning Disabilities is Step in Right Direction
New York Families Fight Back Against Opt-Out Punishments

State Eases Some Test Score Cut Offs

Legislature Ends Exit Exam Graduation Requirement

State Comptroller Finds Computer Testing Problems Widespread
Tennessee Testing Is “In a Transition Phase”

Scrapped STAAR Scores Add to Standardized Testing Frustration
Texas Legislator Says State Should Not Pay for Flawed Tests
Texas Study Panel Not Yet Ready to Ditch State Standardized Exams

State Residents Give Failing Grade to Common Core Standardized Testing

Wisconsin Test Changes Render Year-to-Year Comparisons Useless

Nine Out of Ten British Teachers Say Test Prep Focus Hurts Students’ Mental Health

University Admission If High School GPA Is Best Predictor of College Outcomes, Why Do Schools Cling to ACT/SAT

Worth Reading
Opt-Out Movement Reflects Genuine Concerns of Parents
Worth Reading Study Finds More Testing, Less Play in Kindergarten
Worth Reading Test Scores Are Poor Predictors of Life Outcomes

Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director
FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing
office-   (239) 395-6773   fax-  (239) 395-6779
mobile- (239) 699-0468
web-  http://www.fairtest.org

Against Proposed DoE Regulations on ESSA

This is from Monty Neill:


Dear Friends,

The U.S. Department of Education (DoE) has drafted regulations for
implementing the accountability provisions of the Every Student Succeeds
Act (ESSA). The DOE proposals would continue test-and-punish practices
imposed by the failed No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. The draft
over-emphasizes standardized exam scores, mandates punitive
interventions not required in law, and extends federal micro-management.
The draft regulations would also require states to punish schools in
which larger numbers of parents refuse to let their children be tested.
When DoE makes decisions that should have been set locally in
partnership with educators, parents, and students, it takes away local
voices that ESSA tried to restore.

You can help push back against these dangerous proposals in two ways:

First, tell DoE it must drop harmful proposed regulations. You can
simply cut and paste the Comment below into DoE’s website at
or adapt it into your own words. (The text below is part of FairTest’s
submission.) You could emphasize that the draft regulations steal the
opportunity ESSA provides for states and districts to control
accountability and thereby silences the voice of educators, parents,
students and others.

Second, urge Congress to monitor the regulations. Many Members have
expressed concern that DoE is trying to rewrite the new law, not draft
appropriate regulations to implement it. Here’s a letter you can easily
send to your Senators and Representative asking them to tell leaders of
Congress’ education committees to block DoE’s proposals:

Together, we can stop DoE’s efforts to extend NLCB policies that the
American people and Congress have rejected.


Note: DoE website has a character limit; if you add your own comments,
you likely will need to cut some of the text below:

*/You can cut and paste this text into the DoE website:/*

I support the Comments submitted by FairTest on June 15 (Comment #).
Here is a slightly edited version:

While the accountability provision in the Every Student Succeeds Act
(ESSA) are superior to those in No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the
Department of Education’s (DoE) draft regulations intensify ESSA’s worst
aspects and will perpetuate many of NCLB’s most harmful practices. The
draft regulations over-emphasize testing, mandate punishments not
required in law, and continue federal micro-management. When DoE makes
decisions that should be set at the state and local level in partnership
with local educators, parents, and students, it takes away local voices
that ESSA restores. All this will make it harder for states, districts
and schools to recover from the educational damage caused by NLCB – the
very damage that led Congress to fundamentally overhaul NCLB’s
accountability structure and return authority to the states.

The DoE must remove or thoroughly revise five draft regulations:

_DoE draft regulation 200.15_ would require states to lower the ranking
of any school that does not test 95% of its students or to identify it
as needing “targeted support.” No such mandate exists in ESSA. This
provision violates statutory language that ESSA does not override “a
State or local law regarding the decision of a parent to not have the
parent’s child participate in the academic assessments.” This regulation
appears designed primarily to undermine resistance to the overuse and
misuse of standardized exams.

_Recommendation:_ DoE should simply restate ESSA language allowing the
right to opt out as well as its requirements that states test 95% of
students in identified grades and factor low participation rates into
their accountability systems. Alternatively, DoE could write no
regulation at all. In either case, states should decide how to implement
this provision.

_DoE draft regulation 200.18_ transforms ESSA’s requirement for
“meaningful differentiation” among schools into a mandate that states
create “at least three distinct levels of school performance” for each
indicator. ESSA requires states to identify their lowest performing five
percent of schools as well as those in which “subgroups” of students are
doing particularly poorly. Neither provision necessitates creation of
three or more levels. This proposal serves no educationally useful
purpose. Several states have indicated they oppose this provision
because it obscures rather than enhances their ability to precisely
identify problems and misleads the public. This draft regulation would
pressure schools to focus on tests to avoid being placed in a lower
level. Performance levels are also another way to attack schools in
which large numbers of parents opt out, as discussed above.

_DoE draft regulation 200.18_ also mandates that states combine multiple
indicators into a single “summative” score for each school. As Rep. John
Kline, chair of the House Education Committee, pointed out, ESSA
includes no such requirement. Summative scores are simplistically
reductive and opaque. They encourage the flawed school grading schemes
promoted by diehard NCLB defenders.

_Recommendation:_ DoE should drop this draft regulation. It should allow
states to decide how to use their indicators to identify schools and
whether to report a single score. Even better, the DoE should encourage
states to drop their use of levels.

_DoE draft regulation 200.18_ further proposes that a state’s academic
indicators together carry “much greater” weight than its “school
quality” (non-academic) indicators. Members of Congress differ as to the
intent of the relevant ESSA passage. Some say it simply means more than
50%, while others claim it implies much more than 50%. The phrase “much
greater” is likely to push states to minimize the weight of non-academic
factors in order to win plan approval from DOE, especially since the
overall tone of the draft regulations emphasizes testing.

_Recommendation: _The regulations should state that the academic
indicators must count for more than 50% of the weighting in how a state
identifies schools needing support.

_DoE draft regulation 200.18_ also exceeds limits ESSA placed on DoE
actions regarding state accountability plans.

_DoE draft regulation 200.19_ would require states to use 2016-17 data
to select schools for “support and improvement” in 2017-18. This leaves
states barely a year for implementation, too little time to overhaul
accountability systems. It will have the harmful consequence of
encouraging states to keep using a narrow set of test-based indicators
and to select only one additional “non-academic” indicator.

_Recommendation:_ The regulations should allow states to use 2017-18
data to identify schools for 2018-19. This change is entirely consistent
with ESSA’s language.

Lastly, we are concerned that an additional effect of these unwarranted
regulations will be to unhelpfully constrain states that choose to
participate in ESSA’s “innovative assessment” program.

Monty Neill, Ed.D.; Executive Director, FairTest; P.O. Box 300204,
Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-477-9792; http://www.fairtest.org; Donate
to FairTest: https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/fairtest

Judge in NY State Throws Out ‘Value-Added Model’ Ratings

I am pleased that in an important, precedent-setting case, a judge in New York State has ruled that using Value-Added measurements to judge the effectiveness of teachers is ‘arbitrary’ and ‘capricious’.

The case involved teacher Sheri Lederman, and was argued by her husband.

“New York Supreme Court Judge Roger McDonough said in his decision that he could not rule beyond the individual case of fourth-grade teacher Sheri G. Lederman because regulations around the evaluation system have been changed, but he said she had proved that the controversial method that King developed and administered in New York had provided her with an unfair evaluation. It is thought to be the first time a judge has made such a decision in a teacher evaluation case.”

In case you were unaware of it, VAM is a statistical black box used to predict how a hypothetical student is supposed to score on a Big Standardized Test one year based on the scores of every other student that year and in previous years. Any deviation (up or down) of that score is attributed to the teacher.

Gary Rubinstein and I have looked into how stable those VAM scores are in New York City, where we had actual scores to work with (leaked by the NYTimes and other newspapers). We found that they were inconsistent and unstable in the extreme! When you graph one year’s score versus next year’s score, we found that there was essentially no correlation at all, meaning that a teacher who is assigned the exact same grade level, in the same school, with very similar  students, can score high one year, low the next, and middling the third, or any combination of those. Very, very few teachers got scores that were consistent from year to year. Even teachers who taught two or more grade levels of the same subject (say, 7th and 8th grade math) had no consistency from one subject to the next. See my blog  (not all on NY City) herehere, here,  here, herehere, here, here,  herehere, and here. See Gary R’s six part series on his blog here, here, here, here, here, and here. As well as a less technical explanation here.

Mercedes Schneider has done similar research on teachers’ VAM scores in Louisiana and came up with the same sorts of results that Rubinstein and I did.

Which led all three of us to conclude that the entire VAM machinery was invalid.

And which is why the case of Ms. Lederman is so important. Similar cases have been filed in numerous states, but this is apparently the first one where a judgement has been reached.

(Also read this. and this.)

A Concise Primer on Privatization from Marion Brady

This is a concise primer, written by Marion Brady, on how the 1/100 of 1% have been privatizing our schools and getting away with it. -GFB

Advice column for pundits and politicians


Privatizing public schools: A primer for pundits and politicians


When, about thirty years ago, corporate interests began their highly organized, well-funded effort to privatize public education, you wouldn’t have read or heard about it. They didn’t want to trigger the debate that such a radical change in an important institution warranted.

If, like most pundits and politicians, you’ve supported that campaign, it’s likely you’ve been snookered. Here’s a quick overview of the snookering process.


The pitch


Talking Points: (a) Standardized testing proves America’s schools are poor. (b) Other countries are eating our lunch. (c) Teachers deserve most of the blame. (d) The lazy ones need to be forced out by performance evaluations. (e) The dumb ones need scripts to read or “canned standards” telling them exactly what to teach. (f) The experienced ones are too set in their ways to change and should be replaced by fresh Five-Week-Wonders from Teach for America. (Bonus: Replacing experienced teachers saves a ton of money.) (g) Public (“government”) schools are a step down the slippery slope to socialism.




Education establishment resistance to privatization is inevitable, so (a) avoid it as long as possible by blurring the lines between “public” and “private.” (b) Push school choice, vouchers, tax write-offs, tax credits, school-business partnerships, profit-driven charter chains. (c) When resistance comes, crank up fear with the, “They’re eating our lunch!” message. (d) Contribute generously to all potential resisters—academic publications, professional organizations, unions, and school support groups such as PTA. (e) Create fake “think tanks,” give them impressive names, and have them do “research” supporting privatization. (f) Encourage investment in teacher-replacer technology—internet access, I-pads, virtual schooling, MOOCS, etc. (e) Pressure state legislators to make life easier for profit-seeking charter chains by taking approval decisions away from local boards and giving them to easier-to-lobby state-level bureaucrats. (g) Elect the “right” people at all levels of government. (When they’re campaigning, have them keep their privatizing agenda quiet.)




If you’ll read the fine-print disclaimers on high-stakes standardized tests, you’ll see how grossly they’re being misused, but they’re the key to privatization. The general public, easily impressed by numbers and mathematical razzle-dazzle, believes competition is the key to quality, so want quality quantified even though it can’t be done. Machine-scored tests don’t measure quality. They rank.

It’s hard to rank unlike things so it’s necessary to standardize. That’s what the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) do. To get the job done quickly, Bill Gates picked up the tab, got the CCSS “legitimized” by getting important politicians to sign off on them, then handed them to teachers as a done deal.

The Standards make testing and ranking a cinch. They also make making billions a cinch. Manufacturers can use the same questions for every state that has adopted the Standards or facsimiles thereof.

If challenged, test fans often quote the late Dr. W. Edward Deming, the world-famous quality guru who showed Japanese companies how to build better stuff than anybody else. In his book, The New Economics, Deming wrote, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

Here’s the whole sentence as he wrote it: “It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it—a costly myth.”


Operating the weapon


What’s turned standardized testing into a privatizing juggernaut are pass-fail “cut scores” set by politicians. Saying kids need to be challenged, they set the cut score high enough to fail many (sometimes most) kids. When the scores are published, they point to the high failure rate to “prove” public schools can’t do the job and should be closed or privatized. Clever, huh?

The privatizing machinery is in place. Left alone, it’ll gradually privatize most, but not all, public schools. Those that serve the poorest, the sickest, the handicapped, the most troubled, the most expensive to educate—those will stay in what’s left of the public schools.


Weapon malfunction


Look at standardized tests from kids’ perspective. Test items (a) measure recall of secondhand, standardized, delivered information, or (b) require a skill to be demonstrated, or (c) reward an ability to second-guess whoever wrote the test item. Because kids didn’t ask for the information, because the skill they’re being asked to demonstrate rarely has immediate practical use, and because they don’t give a tinker’s dam what the test-item writer thinks, they have zero emotional investment in what’s being tested.

As every real teacher knows, no emotional involvement means no real learning. Period. What makes standardized testslook like they work is learner emotion, but it’s emotion that doesn’t have anything to do with learning. The ovals get penciled in to avoid trouble, to please somebody, to get a grade, or to jump through a bureaucratic hoop to be eligible to jump through another bureaucratic hoop. When the pencil is laid down, what’s tested, having no perceived value, automatically erases from memory.


Before you write…


If you want to avoid cranking out the usual amateurish drivel about standardized testing that appears in the op-eds, editorials, and syndicated columns of the mainstream media, ask yourself a few questions about the testing craze: (a) Should life-altering decisions hinge on the scores of commercially produced tests not open to public inspection? (b) How wise is it to only teach what machines can measure? (c) How fair is it to base any part of teacher pay on scores from tests that can’t evaluate complex thought? (d) Are tests that have no “success in life” predictive power worth the damage they’re doing?

Here’s a longer list of problems you should think about before you write.



America’s schools have always struggled—an inevitable consequence, first, of a decision in 1893 to narrow and standardize the high school curriculum and emphasize college prep; second, from a powerful strain of individualism in our national character that eats away support for public institutions; third, from a really sorry system of institutional organization. Politicians, not educators, make education policy, basing it on the simplistic conventional wisdom that educating means “delivering information.”

In fact, educating is the most complex and difficult of all professions. Done right, teaching is an attempt to help the young align their beliefs, values, and assumptions more closely with what’s true and real, escape the bonds of ethnocentrism, explore the wonders and potential of humanness, and become skilled at using thought processes that make it possible to realize those aims.

Historically, out of the institution’s dysfunctional organizational design came schools with lots of problems, but with one redeeming virtue. They were “loose.” Teachers had enough autonomy to do their thing. So they did, and the kids that some of them coached brought America far more than its share of patents, scholarly papers, scientific advances, international awards, and honors.

Notwithstanding their serious problems, America’s public schools were once the envy of the world. Now, educators around that world shake their heads in disbelief (or maybe cheer?) as we spend billions of dollars to standardize what once made America great—un-standardized thought.

A salvage operation is still (barely) possible, but not if politicians, prodded by pundits, continue to do what they’ve thus far steadfastly refused to do—listen to people who’ve actually worked with real students in real classrooms, and did so long enough and thoughtfully enough to know something about teaching.


Note: I invite response, especially from those in positions of influence or authority who disagree with me.

Marion Brady mbrady2222@gmail.com

View this on Basecamp

A 3 minute news segment on the NY lawsuit against Value-Added Modeling

Even-handed video from Al-Jazeera interviewing some of the people involved in the anti-Value-Added-Model lawsuit against Value-Added Model evalutations of teachers in New York state.

You may have heard of the lawsuit – it was filed by elementary teacher Sherri Lederman and her lawyer, who is also her husband.

Parents, students, and administrators had nothing but glowing praise for teacher Lederman. In fact, Sherri’s principal is quoted as saying,

“any computer program claiming Lederman ‘ineffective’ is fundamentally flawed.”

Lederman herself states,

“The model doesn’t work. It’s misrepresenting an entire profession.”

Statistician Aaron Pallas of Columbia University states,

“In Sherri’s case, she went from a 14 out of 20, which was fully in the effective range, to 1 out of 20 [the very next year], ineffective, and we look at that and say, ‘How can this be? Can a teacher’s performance really have changed that dramatically from one year to the next?’

“And if the numbers are really jumping around like that, can we really trust that they are telling us something important about a teacher’s career?”

Professor Pallas could perhaps have used one of my graphs as a visual aid, to help show just how much those scores do jump around from year to year, as you see here. This one shows how raw value-added scores for teachers in New York City in school year 2005-2006 correlated with those very same teachers, teaching the same grade level students in the very same schools the exact same subjects, one year later. Gary Rubinstein has similar graphs. You can look here, here, here, or here. if you want to see some more from me on this topic.

The plot that follows is a classic case of ‘nearly no correlation whatsoever’ that we now teach to kids in middle school.

In other words, yes, teachers’ scores do, indeed jump around like crazy from year to year. If you were above average on VAM one year – that is, to the right of the Y axis anywhere, it is quite likely that you will end under the X-axis (and hence below average) the next year. Or not.

I am glad somebody is finally taking this to court, because this sort of mathematics of intimidation has got to stop.

nyc raw value added scores sy 0506 versus 0607

Comment by Duane Swacker on Stuart Yen’s Study, at Diane Ravitch’s Blog

I hope Duane Swacker will not mind me reposting one of his long comments after the recent blog post by Diane Ravitch about professor Stuart Yen’s study on the lack of validity of Value-Added Metrics.


To understand the COMPLETE INSANITY that is VAM & SLO/SGP read and understand Noel Wilson’s never refuted nor rebutted destruction of educational standards and standardized testing (of which VAM & SLO/SGP are the bastard stepchildren) in “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error” found at: http://epaa.asu.edu/ojs/article/view/577/700

Brief outline of Wilson’s “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error” and some comments of mine.

1. A description of a quality can only be partially quantified. Quantity is almost always a very small aspect of quality. It is illogical to judge/assess a whole category only by a part of the whole. The assessment is, by definition, lacking in the sense that “assessments are always of multidimensional qualities. To quantify them as unidimensional quantities (numbers or grades) is to perpetuate a fundamental logical error” (per Wilson). The teaching and learning process falls in the logical realm of aesthetics/qualities of human interactions. In attempting to quantify educational standards and standardized testing the descriptive information about said interactions is inadequate, insufficient and inferior to the point of invalidity and unacceptability.

2. A major epistemological mistake is that we attach, with great importance, the “score” of the student, not only onto the student but also, by extension, the teacher, school and district. Any description of a testing event is only a description of an interaction, that of the student and the testing device at a given time and place. The only correct logical thing that we can attempt to do is to describe that interaction (how accurately or not is a whole other story). That description cannot, by logical thought, be “assigned/attached” to the student as it cannot be a description of the student but the interaction. And this error is probably one of the most egregious “errors” that occur with standardized testing (and even the “grading” of students by a teacher).

3. Wilson identifies four “frames of reference” each with distinct assumptions (epistemological basis) about the assessment process from which the “assessor” views the interactions of the teaching and learning process: the Judge (think college professor who “knows” the students capabilities and grades them accordingly), the General Frame-think standardized testing that claims to have a “scientific” basis, the Specific Frame-think of learning by objective like computer based learning, getting a correct answer before moving on to the next screen, and the Responsive Frame-think of an apprenticeship in a trade or a medical residency program where the learner interacts with the “teacher” with constant feedback. Each category has its own sources of error and more error in the process is caused when the assessor confuses and conflates the categories.

4. Wilson elucidates the notion of “error”: “Error is predicated on a notion of perfection; to allocate error is to imply what is without error; to know error it is necessary to determine what is true. And what is true is determined by what we define as true, theoretically by the assumptions of our epistemology, practically by the events and non-events, the discourses and silences, the world of surfaces and their interactions and interpretations; in short, the practices that permeate the field. . . Error is the uncertainty dimension of the statement; error is the band within which chaos reigns, in which anything can happen. Error comprises all of those eventful circumstances which make the assessment statement less than perfectly precise, the measure less than perfectly accurate, the rank order less than perfectly stable, the standard and its measurement less than absolute, and the communication of its truth less than impeccable.”

In other word all the logical errors involved in the process render any conclusions invalid.

5. The test makers/psychometricians, through all sorts of mathematical machinations attempt to “prove” that these tests (based on standards) are valid-errorless or supposedly at least with minimal error [they aren’t]. Wilson turns the concept of validity on its head and focuses on just how invalid the machinations and the test and results are. He is an advocate for the test taker not the test maker. In doing so he identifies thirteen sources of “error”, any one of which renders the test making/giving/disseminating of results invalid. And a basic logical premise is that once something is shown to be invalid it is just that, invalid, and no amount of “fudging” by the psychometricians/test makers can alleviate that invalidity.

6. Having shown the invalidity, and therefore the unreliability, of the whole process Wilson concludes, rightly so, that any result/information gleaned from the process is “vain and illusory”. In other words start with an invalidity, end with an invalidity (except by sheer chance every once in a while, like a blind and anosmic squirrel who finds the occasional acorn, a result may be “true”) or to put in more mundane terms crap in-crap out.

7. And so what does this all mean? I’ll let Wilson have the second to last word: “So what does a test measure in our world? It measures what the person with the power to pay for the test says it measures. And the person who sets the test will name the test what the person who pays for the test wants the test to be named.”

In other words it attempts to measure “’something’ and we can specify some of the ‘errors’ in that ‘something’ but still don’t know [precisely] what the ‘something’ is.” The whole process harms many students as the social rewards for some are not available to others who “don’t make the grade (sic)” Should American public education have the function of sorting and separating students so that some may receive greater benefits than others, especially considering that the sorting and separating devices, educational standards and standardized testing, are so flawed not only in concept but in execution?
My answer is NO!!!!!

One final note with Wilson channeling Foucault and his concept of subjectivization:

“So the mark [grade/test score] becomes part of the story about yourself and with sufficient repetitions becomes true: true because those who know, those in authority, say it is true; true because the society in which you live legitimates this authority; true because your cultural habitus makes it difficult for you to perceive, conceive and integrate those aspects of your experience that contradict the story; true because in acting out your story, which now includes the mark and its meaning, the social truth that created it is confirmed; true because if your mark is high you are consistently rewarded, so that your voice becomes a voice of authority in the power-knowledge discourses that reproduce the structure that helped to produce you; true because if your mark is low your voice becomes muted and confirms your lower position in the social hierarchy; true finally because that success or failure confirms that mark that implicitly predicted the now self-evident consequences. And so the circle is complete.”

In other words students “internalize” what those “marks” (grades/test scores) mean, and since the vast majority of the students have not developed the mental skills to counteract what the “authorities” say, they accept as “natural and normal” that “story/description” of them. Although paradoxical in a sense, the “I’m an “A” student” is almost as harmful as “I’m an ‘F’ student” in hindering students becoming independent, critical and free thinkers. And having independent, critical and free thinkers is a threat to the current socio-economic structure of society.

Important Article Shows that ‘Value-Added’ Measurements are Neither Valid nor Reliable

As you probably know, a handful of agricultural researchers and economists have come up with extremely complicated “Value-Added” Measurement (VAM) systems that purport to be able to grade teachers’ output exactly.

These economists (Hanushek, Chetty and a few others) claim that their formulas are magically mathematically able to single out the contribution of every single teacher to the future test scores and total lifetime earnings of their students 5 to 50 years into the future. I’m not kidding.

Of course, those same economists claim that the teacher is the single most important variable affecting their student’s school and trajectories – not family background or income, nor peer pressure, nor even whole-school variables. (Many other studies have shown that the effect of any individual teacher, or all teachers, is pretty small – from 1% to 14% of the entire variation, which corresponds to what I found during my 30 years of teaching … ie, not nearly as much of an impact as I would have liked [or feared], one way or another…)

Diane Ravitch has brought to my attention an important study by Stuart Yen at UMinn that (once again) refutes those claims, which are being used right now in state after state and county after county, to randomly fire large numbers of teachers who have tried to devote their lives to helping students.

According to the study, here are a few of the problems with VAM:

1. As I have shown repeatedly using the New York City value-added scores that were printed in the NYTimes and NYPost, teachers’ VAM scores vary tremendously over time. (More on that below; note that if you use VAM scores, 80% of ALL teachers should be fired after their first year of teaching) Plus RAND researchers found much the same thing in North CarolinaAlso see this. And this.

2. Students are not assigned randomly to teachers (I can vouch for that!) or to schools, and there are always a fair number of students for whom no prior or future data is available, because they move to other schools or states, or drop out, or whatever; and those students with missing data are NOT randomly distributed, which pretty makes the whole VAM setup an exercise in futility.

3. The tests themselves often don’t measure what they are purported to measure. (Complaints about the quality of test items are legion…)

Here is an extensive quote from the article. It’s a section that Ravitch didn’t excerpt, so I will, with a few sentences highlighted by me, since it concurs with what I have repeatedly claimed on my blog:

A largely ignored problem is that true teacher performance, contrary to the main assumption underlying current VAM models, varies over time (Goldhaber & Hansen, 2012). These models assume that each teacher exhibits an underlying trend in performance that can be detected given a sufficient amount of data. The question of stability is not a question about whether average teacher performance rises, declines, or remains flat over time.

The issue that concerns critics of VAM is whether individual teacher performance fluctuates over time in a way that invalidates inferences that an individual teacher is “low-” or “high-” performing.

This distinction is crucial because VAM is increasingly being applied such that individual teachers who are identified as low-performing are to be terminated. From the perspective of individual teachers, it is inappropriate and invalid to fire a teacher whose performance is low this year but high the next year, and it is inappropriate to retain a teacher whose performance is high this year but low next year.

Even if average teacher performance remains stable over time, individual teacher performance may fluctuate wildly from year to year.  (my emphasis – gfb)

While previous studies examined the intertemporal stability of value-added teacher rankings over one-year periods and found that reliability is inadequate for high-stakes decisions, researchers tended to assume that this instability was primarily a function of measurement error and sought ways to reduce this error (Aaronson, Barrow, & Sander, 2007; Ballou, 2005; Koedel & Betts, 2007; McCaffrey, Sass, Lockwood, & Mihaly, 2009).

However, this hypothesis was rejected by Goldhaber and Hansen (2012), who investigated the stability of teacher performance in North Carolina using data spanning 10 years and found that much of a teacher’s true performance varies over time due to unobservable factors such as effort, motivation, and class chemistry that are not easily captured through VAM. This invalidates the assumption of stable teacher performance that is embedded in Hanushek’s (2009b) and Gordon et al.’s (2006) VAM-based policy proposals, as well as VAM models specified by McCaffrey et al. (2009) and Staiger and Rockoff (2010) (see Goldhaber & Hansen, 2012, p. 15).

The implication is that standard estimates of impact when using VAM to identify and replace low-performing teachers are significantly inflated (see Goldhaber & Hansen, 2012, p. 31).

As you also probably know, the four main ‘tools’ of the billionaire-led educational DEform movement are:

* firing lots of teachers

* breaking their unions

* closing public schools and turning education over to the private sector

* changing education into tests to prepare for tests that get the kids ready for tests that are preparation for the real tests

They’ve been doing this for almost a decade now under No Child Left Untested and Race to the Trough, and none of these ‘reforms’ have shown to make any actual improvement in the overall education of our youth.

Two VAMboozlers down, but many more to go

Two of the foremost promoters of the junk science known as VAM (Value-Added Measurements) have just resigned, one in Tennessee and one in Louisiana: Kevin Huffman and John Ayers.

Yay! But there are several dozen more who need to be fired across the country as well.

(Huffman is the ex-husband of the notorious liar and self-promoting former chancellor of DC Public Schools, Michelle Rhee, who is now selling fertilizer. Huffman was once chosen by the pro-EduDeformer Washington Post editorial board as its main educational pundit.)

Audrey Beardsley has the details on her blog, VAMboozled.


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