VAM Part of the “Systemic Dismantling of a Teachers Worth”

The fall-out over the court-ordered release of VAM scores belonging to Florida teachers is just beginning. Joseph E. Joyner, the superintendent of schools in St. Johns County where the state’s best VAM scores came from, wasn’t doing an end zone dance. Here’s part of the public letter he released yesterday:

The creation of lists/judgments of teachers by VAM data is inherently wrong in several areas. VAM was never created as the sole tool for evaluating the quality of a classroom teacher, and names or lists of teachers will, without question, lead to inaccurate assumptions. The confusion created by these natural assumptions made by parents and the general public will create chaos in scheduling and teacher assignments. Students are assigned to teachers based on what the principal believes will be the best chance of success for that child…not VAM scores.

The identification of a teacher’s VAM score comes dangerously close to identifying individual children and their scores, particularly in small classes.  During the debate over Common Core curriculum, I recall the public concern over the potential release of individually identifiable data and the need to protect that data.  However, there seems to be no such concern in protecting this data regarding teachers. It is a very small step to identifying the children based on their teacher.

Identifying a teacher, and judging the quality of that teacher based solely on a single piece of data is not only inappropriate, it is inherently unfair.  In my opinion, publicly judging teachers on this number alone strips the individual dignity of a teacher and is no better than judging them on their race, hair color, income or religion……

The desire for simplicity in the face of complexity is born out of an unwillingness to truly understand what great teaching entails, and an unquenchable desire to judge. In my 36 years of watching the work of teachers, I am convinced that successful teaching is grounded in love. No evaluation system will ever be able to quantify this most vital component. I am fortunate in that I see it every day, and yes, I know what good teaching looks like.

While it is painful for me to watch the systematic dismantling of a teachers worth, in the end it will not matter how the public chooses to judge us. The children will remember us…not for the number pinned on them, but for how we made them feel, how we encouraged them to grow, and how we loved them.  Our search for that elusive test score will never fulfill our duty to our children, and I pray that adults realize this before it’s too late.

Joyner reveals that only 56% of his districts teachers were included in the released data and asks whether it’s realistic to conclude “the bottom of the list in St. Johns comparable to the bottom of the list in other counties?”

Of course not.

And with merit pay based upon VAM scores, Rick Scott and Florida republican legislators will have to face the music on the news that the VAM scores are all over the place.  A similar battleground to that on school grades is emerging where state superintendents are pushing for a pause. Merit pay’s reliance on VAM starting next year is certain to be a non-starter as well.


About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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2 Responses to VAM Part of the “Systemic Dismantling of a Teachers Worth”

  1. God Bless you, Superintendent Joyner. When you look, you see.

  2. Penny Larson says:

    Rating teachers like this and then publishing these misleading statistics in the newspaper or in public forums leads to losing some of the best current and future educators. New teachers are already so pressured that they are leaving the profession early and often bordering on nervous breakdowns. For the same reason that lawyers don’t start handling high stakes cases early in their career, teachers just out of training do not hit their stride in their first year or two. They are competent, but they need guidance, additional training and a lot of experience juggling the thousands of details the job presents before they can become excellent. “Data”, like VAM scores is designed for witch hunts rather than real school improvement and can push administrators over the edge, too. Their jobs are threatened by things they can’t control so some lean on teachers in ways that are harassing and punitive in a crazed attempt to survive themselves.

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