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24 May 2014 @ 12:16 pm
Ignorance must be bliss  
VAM: value added measures. If you have not heard this term, and you are an educator, you must have been living under a rock. VAM has made its way from the K-12 classrooms up to the university where it is being used by some to measure the effectiveness of teacher education preparation programs. Before we begin, here is a good resource for reading more about VAM: http://edglossary.org/value-added-measures/.

VAM are, at best correlational, but recent reports assert that even the correlation seems to be weak. And yet we persist in using these measures as if they will magically begin to work, to pinpoint those ineffective teachers, those educators who need to be removed or re-educated. Valerie Strauss discussed the new research questioning VAM here: http://m.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/05/18/arne-duncans-reaction-to-new-research-slamming-teacher-evaluation-method-he-favors/.

This reliance on data points is disturbing to me. A tweet earlier this week talked about using data to guide teaching and learning. I tweeted that I would prefer to use students to guide my decisions in the classroom. Do not get me wrong, I am not discounting that sometimes having information at hand is helpful. I ask students in my YA classes to write their reading autobiographies so I can get to know them as the readers they were and the readers they have become. I ask students in other classes to reflect on the books they read from most favorite to least favorite to check and make sure the books I am requiring are meeting needs, interests, etc. I gather information. But I do not gather DATA. There is a distinction for me. Here is the definition of data: facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis. synonyms: facts, figures, statistics, details, particulars, specifics.

I am more about gathering stories and not isolated facts and figures. Perhaps that is because I teach about stories for a living. Or perhaps I teach about stories because STORIES were so important to me as I went though school. Who knows? To me, it is a chicken/egg situation. In any event, I rely more on story than on data points to inform my teaching.

I wish Secretary Duncan would do the same. Instead of his stubborn refusal to consider alternative means of "improving" education, perhaps he should listen to stories more. Listen to the stories of parents whose kids are forced to sit for hours and take tests. Listen to stories from teachers who can talk about the impact of poverty on teaching and learning (not as an excuse, mind you, but as a reality). Listen, Mr. Secretary, to the stories of those who are in the trenches trying to juggle new mandates with the same problems education has always faced: lack of funding, lack of respect for the work of the teacher, lack of understanding of WHAT WORKS and what is simply purporting to measure what it cannot possibly do.

Is Duncan listening to the research about VAM? It seems he is not. Turning a deaf ear when it suites him seems to be SOP. Perhaps a lesson in close reading of the research might be in order?
 
 
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