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A Matanzas High Teacher Reveals Her Evaluation Scores, and the Absurdity of Florida’s “VAM” Scam

| February 26, 2014

The author in her class at Matanzas High School, with students who may or may not have factored in her "value-added model" scores that determine half her evaluation. Nahirny is not a fan of VAM scores. (© FlaglerLive)

The author in her class at Matanzas High School, with students who may or may not have factored in her “value-added model” scores that determine half her evaluation. Nahirny is not a fan of VAM scores. (© FlaglerLive)

The Florida Times Union claims it’s won a “major battle” in forcing the Florida Department of Education to release thousands of scores which purportedly measure the “effectiveness” of teachers via the state’s controversial value-added model, or “VAM.” That the Times Union actually spent money to sue to gain access to what it considers a trove of information defies logic–but perhaps may explain the recent increase in the newspaper’s cover price, possibly implemented to pay for the considerable billable hours charged by high profile lawyers, clearly the only folks who’ll profit from this boondoggle.

What will people like you and me –parents and taxpayers– gain? Nary a thing.

What do my almighty VAM scores reveal about me, my students, the quality of my instruction or what goes on in my classroom?

Absolutely nothing.

So little do my VAM scores matter to me, and so irrelevant are they in the total spectrum of what goes on in my classroom, that I’m willing to discuss mine in a public forum, to reveal them for the farce they truly are.

My VAM score for 2011-2012 was .35242121193.  (Disclosure: I couldn’t even look up my own scores on the Time Union’s website; I had to pay a fee to access them online since I’m not a daily subscriber and haven’t been since the same paper cut off delivery to me and my neighbors a few years ago as a cost cutting measure.)

Anyway, what does that .35242121193 signify and why should you care? I have no clue. Nor do I much care.  And neither should you.  Why? Well, for starters, it was based on the FCAT Reading scores of only 35 of the 10th-graders I taught that year. However, I didn’t even teach any reading classes.  I taught English. And I taught approximately 165 students in 2011-2012, the vast majority of whom were 11th-graders in AP English Composition classes.


So this VAM score –which comprised half of my total teacher evaluation score that year– was based on the performance of a mere 20 percent of the students I taught. Oh, and by the way, I actually did teach about 50 or so 10th graders that year, not just 35. But the FCAT Reading scores of 15 (or 30 percent) of them weren’t even included in calculating my VAM score, simply because they were new to our district that year.  So though they occupied desks in my classroom, and though I graded their essays, tests and quizzes, answered their questions, attended their parent conferences and determined whether they passed or failed English, each one of those 15 ended up as a persona non grata, or figuratively speaking, nonexistent, at least with regard to how much they were “worth” in terms of that meaningless number the Times Union’s been drooling to ensnare, my coveted VAM score.

Now on to the 2012-2013 school year.  My VAM score looks totally different on the Times Union site than my 2011-2012 score for no apparent reason, and the site doesn’t explain how or why.   My VAM: 16.51 percent.   The newspaper explains, “The aggregate score is the proportion of learning gains students made above or below an average year’s growth.”

My question: What’s an “average year’s growth” and who determines that? Answer: a computer model predicts what score a student is expected to achieve, based on some totally incomprehensible mathematical equation, that no one to date has successfully explained to anyone I know.

The site continues, “For example, an aggregate VAM score of .05 means that on average, the teacher’s students grew 5 percent above the stage average for growth. The closer a teacher’s score is to zero, the closer that teacher’s students grew at the state’s average rate.”

In 2012-2013, my VAM was based on 94 of the 10th graders I taught.  But I actually taught nearly double that many students last year, again, the vast majority of whom once again, were juniors.  More problematic though is that I was out on extended sick leave undergoing cancer treatments for much of the first semester. So how valid is my VAM anyway? Should I have even had a VAM score at all? (As one of the administrators at Matanzas told me, “These students have to ‘belong’ to someone.”)

The Nahirny Files:


Now here’s where it gets really dicey: the long-term sub who took over for me from September to December, and who taught the same students I did, has a different VAM scores than I do. How is that possible? And why would a sub have a VAM score anyway? How can those students “belong” to both of us simultaneously?

Now fully armed with my own VAM scores, (and since I’d paid the fee to access the site anyway) I decided to compare my scores to that of a couple of colleagues, for kicks, just to see how we’d stacked up against one another. Isn’t that what any reasonable parent would do? Compare VAMs to figure out whose classes to put their own kids in, to get the best teachers and the very best education?

Well, good luck with that.

The name of the teacher directly above mine in the list belongs to a guy who’d didn’t even last the first two weeks of school before he resigned unexpectedly. How in God’s name could this man even have a VAM score, when he’d done nothing more than hand out a syllabus and discuss class policies and procedures?

Sadly, there is no end in sight to this absurdity. This week, for example, students throughout the state take the FCAT Writing test in 4th, 8th and 10th grades, while here in Flagler County, our 11th graders tackle the SAT this week, too. Though teachers have dutifully prepared students for both assessments, none of the scores students attain on either of these tests will impact any teacher’s 2013-14 VAM score in Flagler County.

Why? I have no clue.

But then again, neither does the Florida Department of Education. Nor does the Times Union, for that matter.

Jo Ann C. Nahirny, a 1985 graduate of Columbia University and a National Board Certified Teacher, teaches English at Matanzas High School in Palm Coast. Reach her by email here. Note: With or without VAM scores, Nahirny has attained a “highly effective” rating for the past eight years, and her students have consistently passed the AP English Language & Composition exam at rates that exceed both the state and global average.

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48 Responses for “A Matanzas High Teacher Reveals Her Evaluation Scores, and the Absurdity of Florida’s “VAM” Scam”

  1. Craig Cavaliere says:

    According to mine, last year I taught 20 reading students and 5,500% math students. I kid you not.

  2. dlf says:

    I would agree with the author 100 per-cent. However, what avenue do parents, students and tax payers have to gauge the job the teaches are doing. The results that the press reports is that the educational system, as a whole in the USA, is getting a “F”. We are falling behind in all the important subjects, math science and many others. I do not know of any job except government position that the employee is not rated on his/her performance and action taken on the ones not performing. The question his how and what standard is fair. If you listen to the teachers union; nothing is fair and all teachers are doing a GREAT job. I think we would all agree that there are some teachers that should not be in the classroom and there are some who are giving 100 % and not getting the credit due. But, I guess we do not rate the job parents do ,we do not rate the top heavy school board why should we rate the teacher who is in the trenches. We just keep falling behind and producing students that will not make it in tomorrows world wide market.

    • C. Smith says:

      Teachers are evaluated by their administrative/managerial peers, as in the business world. Furthermore, care-givers have the ability to question their child to gauge what they are learning in individual teacher’s classrooms. They have the ability to know over-all how engaged their child is in the learning process.
      I talked to my child. I knew what was going on in each class that she took throughout her K-12 experience. I knew when she needed additional help beyond the classroom experience, and I knew when the school was short changing her, as when they enrolled her in a virtual Economics and Government class held at the school site with 30 computers, 60 students, and an adult monitor that was not certified to teach the course. I had her removed immediately and placed in a great teacher’s class.
      Moreover, I opted my child out of all FCAT prep and testing from grades 10 – 12. She used ACT scores to demonstrate her proficiency in reading and math. However, I did not need ACT or FCAT to tell me what I already knew about a child that I love dearly. I have to question parenting skills if one depends on a questionable standardized test to tell what a child that lives the home daily is doing in regards to math and reading ability because, bottom line, no standardized test can tell an engaged care-giver what their child is accomplishing or not accomplishing in school.
      Last, Dif, do not believe the hype created to divert public money to private profit. We have an ethics and morality problem in America. We are falling behind in fixing the growing poverty and discrimination against second language, special needs, and race problems in this country, not intelligence, creativity, or testing. Remove the impoverished and those victimized by discrimination from the data and – my goodness – America ranks at the top for international testing results.

    • David Freeland says:

      A few of things.

      You are welcome to use a teacher’s VAM score to select a teacher. Of course, you could use a Magic 8 Ball and it would be about as meaningful.

      We are not falling behind in “all the important subjects.” That myth is part of the problem. In fact, the United States has NEVER been number one in testing and we have managed to turn out some pretty innovative individuals. A single test, and any metric developed from it, tells you very little about students or teachers.

      The union does not say “nothing is fair” and I am not sure where you got that idea. There are many fair ways to evaluate teachers. You are correct, virtually all positions are evaluated on their performance. Of course the VAM does not evaluate a teacher; it evaluates the socio-economic status of the family, how many parents are in the home, how motivated the student is, how much support the student has outside of school, a student’s natural talent…. VAM measures many variables and the teacher is only a small part of the score. Teachers don’t mind being evaluated (in fact, I have been evaluated every one of my 20 years in the profession) but we do expect to be evaluated fairly on the work we perform.

    • ccaccus says:

      The USA is not far behind anyone else, that is a myth. I’m currently working in Japan right now and am astounded by their educational system. Not because it’s so advanced, but because it’s so lax. Kindergarten is not a place for learning anything other than friendship and behavioral skills. First grade is when many students begin learning how to read, counting, and things that we, as a nation, have been pushing all the way down to pre-k. Rather than trying to teach algebraic concepts and how to write informational texts (seriously, first grade common core standards), we should simplify the curriculum, lay a strong foundation for future growth, and build off that, as Japan does. Having a shallow understanding of a huge variety of subjects just leads to confusion later down the road.

    • Anonymous says:

      Many avenues but this avenue is pointless!

  3. Melissa says:

    Very well said. It is sad to me that our VAM will determine our pay.

  4. Catherine says:

    Excellent article, Jo Ann. Thank you!

  5. Bethechange says:

    Curious what the private sector equivalent of the VAM score could be? And while we’re on data, also still curious, now 14 years after the implemtation of Blueprint 2000, where the data is that indicates the direct positive correllation between the millions spent on data generation and Florida’s children’s readiness after graduation. The original intent was to fix public education. Is there not a formula for that? :)

  6. Edman says:

    I have a great idea, let’s ask teachers across the state to develop a “VAM” scoring system for our elected officials. If they score too low they don’t get to keep their office.

  7. Angie Torres says:

    Thank you for this article, Jo Ann and FlaglerLive. I don’t always understand the world of curriculum regulation (although apparently neither do the people creating the mandates). This clears up the insanity for me. What policy makers at the state and national level are doing to our educational system is nothing short of swinging a wrecking ball. No one will argue that there’s room for improvement…but the fix is LESS regulation and MORE local control. And here’s the incredible irony: the more the state and feds force us to implement detrimental regulations, the more we look like fools in the local community. Those that don’t understand the complexities will urge their favorite political party to give us more mandates and regulations to straighten things out. Which again makes us look like fools as implement failure. So, we get another mandate or regulation to fix the problems caused by the last one and again…fools. In the meantime, a mysterious marketing machine more engaging than GEICO’s is feeding the public the two sentences in 600 pages of legislation that they know will be acceptable. Who wouldn’t want a teacher with a high rating teaching their students? It is me, or does anyone else see the backwards death-spiral? The Flagler County School District has an incredible amount of talent, wisdom, experience and compassion in it’s teachers and staff members. If only they were allowed to utilize their skills.

  8. Brad says:

    The real issue here is teacher resistance to real evaluations that are based on measurable items and accountability for performance. If this VAM scoring isn’t the best method, then what is? Professionals in a variety of fields are evaluated and held accountable on the performance of others everyday. Why shouldn’t this be the case for teachers and students?

    Education in our country is broken, and the solution is not to continue with “fluffy” evaluation systems and little or no accountability. It’s time to raise the bar considerably. And it’s time for those that simply want to complain to decide if they want to continue to be a part of the problem or be a part of the solution.

    • kafkateach says:

      So you would rather have teachers evaluated and fired based off of an invalid esoteric formula than a trained professional? Teachers have always been evaluated. Administrators are constantly in and out of classrooms observing teachers. They can walk in any time. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out which teachers are doing a good job and which ones are not. If a teacher is not performing, they can be offered guidance and if they fail to improve the necessary paperwork can be filled out to have the teacher fired. I have seen so called “tenured” teachers fired so it is certainly possible if an administrator is doing their job. Teachers can also be held accountable for inputing grades in a timely manner, updating teacher websites, and promptly responding to parent emails. This is all very easy to document and certainly much cheaper than VAM.
      We all went to school. Some teachers were better than others. Somehow I survived and learned nonetheless. It certainly would have never occurred to me to blame my math teacher for my poor performance on the SAT! I never liked math, I never put much effort into it and my math test scores were never great despite the best efforts of my teachers.

      • Brad says:

        Kafkateach,

        Do I think one statistic should be the deciding factor for a teacher? No. But results of a teacher’s students should be a factor in their evaluation. Should they be let go if they can not perform to the levels expected? Yes. Do you think Principals should be evaluated on the performance of their teachers? I do.

        I do not agree that “dropping by” a classroom now should play much of a a role either. That is way to open, subjective, and not a measurement of anything. And I do not agree with the “you just know if someone is not a good teacher”. How do you “know” that consistently in such a way that it is fair to everyone? What are you comparing it to?

        The problem is that education is broken in our country, and a big part of the problem is that no wants accountability. Teachers want to teach but don’t hold them accountable if the student doesn’t perform. We should have year-round school, but teachers won’t teach year-round unless paid more although they already get paid a level which is reasonable as an annual salary. Am I anti-teacher? No. I know plenty of good teachers, but unfortunately there are too many that just don’t get it and simply wan to complain (such as this author here). I am not opposed at all to increasing accountability, and dropping the hammer. If those that remain are not ok with being held accountable for their performance then they are free to find employment elsewhere.

        Problems don’t fix themselves.

    • barbie says:

      These things don’t *raise* the bar, Brad. They *lower* them. This is not about “teacher evaluation”. It’s about “scoring” something that is not even relevant to what’s going on in Real Life. Did you not read the evaluation breakdown? If you had, you wouldn’t be saying the things you are saying.

      Education in this country was just fine until these standardized, generic, Education In A Box curriculums were mandated, thanks to the “advocacy” of the six-figure administrators who are driving our education system into the ground because they don’t have a clue. They created the problem to begin with.

    • Glenn Anderson says:

      Education in our country is NOT broken – or at least no more “broken” than any other institution in America. Politicians have been trumpeting a false “Education crisis” since the 1950s (look up “Why Johnny Can’t Read” from ’55).

      We NEED a crisis in education. Why? So that politicians can come riding in with their unproven, half-baked, ill-conceived programs to “save” education – and further their political careers.

      Teachers have no problem accepting evaluations. We just don’t like the shell game Tallahassee and local school boards play with evaluations – making them too complex to understand, changing the ground rules EVERY SINGLE YEAR, and keeping the whole system clouded in mystery and confusion.

    • Cosette says:

      Are you in the school system? Are you teaching? Have you seen FCATs? Social Studies teacher are getting numbers based on reading. For the record, teaching is the most important part of this country, in fact, if we keep judging it, and not helping it like more progressive countries, say Finland, You’ll be quite happy to know that we’ll be on a downhill slope to failure. Its uneducated people like you that lack respect for teachers that cause these problems. Until you take a step into the lives of teachers, you should show a little respect.

  9. kafkateach says:

    According to my VAM score last year my students experienced some major learning losses last year (-1.49). By the way, I teach Advanced Placement World History to 9th graders. Like you, I was also out part of the year due to maternity leave. Like you, I decided to look up other teachers at my school to see just how poorly I performed in comparison. Turns out I may be the worst teacher at my school! But at least I was in good company. Many other respectable teachers were also on the negative side of VAM. What did we have in common? Teaching gifted students. VAM operates on a growth model. If students score high already, it is very difficult for them to show learning gains and they are more likely to regress towards the norm. Not only that, the Florida VAM contains a variable for gifted students which I am going to assume projects even higher levels of growth. I did have a great reputation at my school, but I fear future generations of students, parents, and educators might look up my VAM and I assume I must be a horrible teacher. http://kafkateach.wordpress.com/2014/02/25/i-finally-got-to-see-my-vam-and-so-did-everybody-else/

  10. tom jack says:

    This isn’t about teacher evaluation but rather a fight for our countries future. As long as teachers put their pay, benefits, and continued fight against ANY form of evaluation over their students educational well being, we as a country will continue to decline.

    • C. Smith says:

      Trust me, to jack, teacher pay, benefits, and evaluations are not the cause of America’s decline. Start with the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and corporations that function without regulation.

    • David Freeland says:

      Teachers have always been evaluated. After 20 years I assure you most teachers put students first. Teachers are happy to be evaluated, but it has to be fair and meaningful. VAM is neither. Even the mathematicians who developed VAM warn against using it in this way.

    • AYopp says:

      I teach in another Florida county and my VAM is -35.64. Yet, I have the highest 10th grade writing average scores in the county last year and we had a huge increase in our FCAT scores. Our best math teacher has a 100% pass rate for the Algebra EOC yet her VAM was even worse than mine. I am evaluated constantly yet according to this silly formula, I suck as a.teacher! Not so! Make an evaluation that evaluates me for thejob I do and then I will quit griping (as someone said previously).

    • barbie says:

      That’s a patent lie, tom jack, to insinuate it’s about teachers selfishness. Teachers want these “evaluations” to be fair and they have the right to expect them to be fair. If it was your vocation on the line, you’d want fairness and you know it.

      This particular “evaluation” is patently unfair if the numbers are this ridiculously inapplicable. VAM *is* a scam if this teacher’s numbers are correct. If the formulas don’t score properly, they are *worthless*.

      You want teachers evaluated? So do I. Score them correctly. Do it with a score that actually provides WORTH.

    • Reaganomicon says:

      The complaint isn’t the fact that they are being evaluated, because this happens every year regardless. The issue here is whether or not the method being used is open, clear, and actually valid. It isn’t.

    • Cosette says:

      Have you seen teacher salary? They make barely enough to live in an apartment. Teacher evaluation needs to happen in the classroom, not by figureheads and desk job statesmen who’ve never taught a day in their lives. You are taking the advice from people who’ve never taught, and an secret series of equations, that certainly does not sound reliable, and I’m sure you’d say the same thing.

  11. kafkateach says:

    One last time, TEACHERS ARE AND ALWAYS HAVE BEEN EVALUATED. No one would like there to be a magic bullet teacher evaluation tool more than teachers. Every two years we have to endure hours of training on the latest and greatest teacher evaluation methodology. VAM is only the latest, most absurd, and most expensive teacher evaluation tool to ever be created. It will go down as one of the dumbest wastes of federal, state and district education funds in history once it has been thrown out in court.
    I always wonder what it is that people do for a living that feel the need to blame greedy teachers who don’t want to be evaluated for the downfall of America on education blogs in the middle of the workday?Apparently their job isn’t very demanding nor are they being supervised properly if they have time to comment here. I happen to be on maternity leave but most teachers are too busy teaching to comment on internet blogs in the middle of the day.
    Instead of blaming teachers for wasting tax dollars and destroying America, maybe you should be looking at Washington and Tallahassee instead. They paid the American Institute for Research $4 million for the Florida VAM. AIR is a D.C. based “nonprofit” that makes their money off of federal and state funds and doesn’t pay their share of taxes in return. This same government contractor also got paid to produce a report that concluded that VAM has no reliability or validity and should not be used in high stakes decisions, http://pareonline.net/pdf/v17n17.pdf.

  12. Tampa Native says:

    I know that this article comes from the National Education Foundation which may cause some distress, or people may not believe it, but it is based upon fact, and can be historically researched. In the past few years Finland has seen a dramatic increase in the performance of their students in schools. Is it because the teachers are being held accountable using some mathematical equation based upon testing that comes from outside the classroom? No. Read the entire article and see what is truly broken with the American system of education. It is not the teachers, or administrators. It is the politicians, our elected officials, our government that continues to create the problems.

    http://www.nea.org/home/40991.htm

    Teachers get evaluated just like many other professionals do, by their immediate bosses the Principals and Assistant Principals who have experience in the classroom and theoretical, pedagogical information to determine if what that teacher does in their classroom is effective instruction, and the kids are learning. Start trusting the teachers, and educators to make decisions about what is good for education and your children, rather than the politicians. Finland has proven when you take the politicians out of education the students learn.

  13. Kathleen Canavan says:

    Now THAT was informative! Thank you! And thank you to all hard-working professional teachers! I’m sure that biometricians, data analysts, and billionaire dabblers all have their place in our society, but they will never replace you!

  14. TomT says:

    If you really want American students to achieve world class standards and hold teachers accountable, and invalid formula is not the way to do so. A closer look at places like Finland, Singapore, S. Korea, Japan and the reveal stark differences that have nothing to do with measuring student and teacher performance. One huge difference is the emphasis placed on academics and not on extra-curricular activities like sports, etc. Another is a much longer school year. Teachers in these places are given adequate time, usually half their work day to complete the planning, training, and paper needed to meet student needs. American teachers are lucky to get one hour a day to plan, usually facing students for 80-85 of their work day. Finally, teachers are not given respect in terms of social status, they are relatively well-paid.

  15. Nancy says:

    Very well said. I commend you for speaking out!

  16. Citizen says:

    I have no problem being evaluated on my students’ learning during the year in my class. However, I have a huge problem with being rated on their scores from previous years with other teachers. That is what VAM does. It takes the scores from the previous year, assigns a projected growth (because we all know how reliable statistics always ate) and evaluates whether the students met that arbitrary mark of not. How can this be accurate when the skills tested are different from year to year? It’s like comparing apples to oranges. If you want to rate me based on the scores of my students, fine, but be fair and transparent. Rate me on how well my students performed on the skills I taught, and only the skills I taught. That’s how you’ll find a real evaluation that you can trust.

  17. nosey parker says:

    The problem with the American education system is that teachers are not properly trained/ prepared to teach. 46% of new teachers leave the profession within the first 5 years. And there is a saying that it’s the good ones who do. Colleges of Education are aware of this and that is why there are so many of them. There is good money to be made churning out educators who will not last more than 5 years because it means there will always be a need.

    Until recently, most politicians were afraid to speak out on the issues plaguing the American education system because they feared going up against the teachers union. That changed when the democratic establishment – the darling of unions – grab the bull by the horns and took on the teachers union. It needed to be done and they had to be the ones to do it. The next step is for teachers and school districts to demand quality teacher preparation programs if they are to succeed in their task, because high teacher turnover is expensive and eats up scarce education dollars. Teachers should not be surprised to learn that many of the policy changes and reforms surrounding education are a result of collaboration with institutions of higher education and think tanks – home of academe’s top elites and policy wonks.

    • Texas Teacher says:

      My state effective has no teachers’ unions (we technically have “professional organizations” and striking is illegal). K-12 teachers do not have tenure, either. So the two great boogeymen of public education arguments don’t exist here. Yet, somehow, we have all of the same problems that plague public education everywhere else. Explain that to me.

      Unless you are in teaching, you have no idea how bad the testing issue is, especially in large, urban districts. My students’ data is being plundered by for-profit corporations. Those kids are making so much money for other people, all at the cost of a decent education.

    • Paul W says:

      You are seriously misinformed. The SCAB organization Teach for a While only offers FIVE WEEKS of training and puts people in classrooms, where fully 80% don’t make it the full two year commitment. And those that do make it two years leave–they only use it as a resume padder. I have no clue where you get your information from. And also look to state legislatures making it EASIER to get a license. In Indiana, for example, all you need to become a teacher is a college degree and passing ONE test. No specialized pedagogical training, to training in cognitive development or child psychology, just a degree in an “area” like English and passing a simple test. And that’s coming to Florida as well. Now imagine if things like that were to happen to medicine or law. Would YOU want to be treated by a “doctor” with only FIVE WEEKS of training?

      I think not. ^0^

    • Val Kent says:

      Nosey describes you. Too bad you are nosey instead of accurate. Yes, a lot of teachers leave within 5 years. But not because they are not educated. Honestly, the education process is difficult. Oh, and let’s not forget that they spend one half a year interning in a school for no salary! Do YOU give half a year to an employer for free? Teachers leave because they are not supported. Not by students, not by parents, not by admin and certainly not by the public. THe switch to picking on teachers is a direct result of the systematic push to privatize and make a profit off the backs of American children. High stakes testing is ruining our kids…go look and see how much that one snapshot in time test costs the citizens. Follow the money. Someone is getting rich. Ps…it is not teachers. Highly educated, many with masters and doctorates, they are generally underpaid for their degree. They work hard daily, they work on THEIR time, they work because they love the kids. Do you think in a mall shooting the boss will huddle with the employees, or stand in front of customers to protect them? Doubt it. Two words: Sandy Hook.
      Frankly, politicians are NOT teachers. Shut them up. I do not hear loud mouth politicians complaining about doctors, lawyers, certainly not the 1%. Why teachers?
      Want to fix the high turnover? SUPPORT teachers. STOP the ridiculous testing measuring nothing but how much money Pearson publishing can make. Pay them what they are worth. Put in place a GOOD mentoring program to help new and seasoned teachers. Make parents and students accountable once again for THEIR part in this. Require school board members, principals, and education commissioners to have at least 10 years teaching in a classroom. And at least two of those years in ahigh poverty area. Put money back in the schools. Get rid of for profit charters. Create a true measure to evaluate teachers, not a VAM score nobody understands or grades a teacher on someone else’s work. ASK TEACHERS. Not Bill gates, not Arne Duncan, Not Jeb and George Bush, Not Obama.
      Ps….unions protect teachers from lies and false firings. Unions will not protect a bad teachers. Unions make for DUE PROCESS…you know, that pesky innocent until proven guilty thing. Unions should be in every business, then the 1% would not have been able to screw the American public so badly.

      • William DAntuono says:

        Val Kent you hit the nail on the head. As a former teacher of 25 years and coming from a family of educators and administrators you are right on. Unfortunately the people here will puppet what the hear in the media and that’s just the way the for profit puppet masters want it!

    • tom s. says:

      These “elites” might want to get out of their white towers and come down to the level of real schools. What most “politicians and other policy makers” don’t realize is we are educating ALL children regardless of grade or mental level and we are using a curriculum which assumes ALL children are college bound. You comments reflect a true ignorance of what administrators and teachers face in classroom today. Teachers have not been trained in many areas, included statistical analysis and money management, in trying to make decisions for their students.

    • Dranwyn says:

      Dear nosey parker,

      Thank you for spewing forth the corporate reform line on teacher prep courses. I’m sure you know exactly what you are talking. I look forward to more of your well reasoned and researched opinions. Thank Al Gore for inventing the internet so that we can all share in your wisdom.

      Thanks you again,
      Dranwyn

    • 27 year vet teacher says:

      The push for online learning and hiring non-education degree teachers is coming from the same sources that say that teachers aren’t well trained enough. Sounds to me like it’s total B.S. – this is ONLY about more money for profit and NOTHING else. When private business is put in charge of education like what is happening now, it’s not about the product, it’s only about the profit and bottom line. Anyone who says that teachers aren’t well trained enough should also be against online learning, charter schools (no regulations there) and non-degree hirings. Yet those people are 100% FOR those abominations. Why? $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$.

  18. Jeovanna Sanchez says:

    “…But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid”
    ~ Albert Einstein
    And that’s pretty much what VAM score is doing, could someone care to explain to me why is it that teachers that don’t teach reading, or are in no way involved in the subjected, are being graded on it? What exactly are you expecting to get out of that? A number? What is said number supposed to do? Oh! I see, it lets you know that the teacher you looked up, doesn’t have a master in reading! And that’s about as useful as that score is. At least that holds true to me, a current student. Why is it that people are constantly trying to fight the ones that are in charge of next generation’s leaders, instead of finding some way to help them? I fully understand that we want a number, or an indicator to let us know that whatever it’s happening in the classroom is what should be happening, but the way they calculate this things is downright awful and utterly wrong, to the point that it could honestly be a joke. A number can only tell you so much, a number doesn’t tell you the amount of hours a teacher has taken out of their own time to tutor, it doesn’t tell you about the money they invest in their classes, it doesn’t tell you about all the seminars and courses, maybe even extracurricular activities that they do to improve as educators in their area, it doesn’t tell you about their classroom dynamics, their ethics or their education. There is more than scores, test, grades, and numbers to teaching. Teaching is both an art and a battle field, and apparently is not enough for them to have to battle many uninterested minds, so let’s add parent’s and the government ( which probably have no experience teaching). I have nothing against evaluation, as a student I would like to know that my educator is indeed fit to instruct me, but how are people that don’t teach capable of evaluate something they know nothing of ? Have you asked the student’s themselves? You know the one’s that actually sit through a class. Oh… Wait, you haven’t because once again, a numeric value somehow has the right words when it comes to describing something. Stop trying to make a profile out of a number, and if you will, then do it right.

  19. Kurt Caywood says:

    Partly in response to and partly in support of the author’s points, I recommend the following from today’s Times-Union. Obtaining release of the VAM data was not, in itself, an end but rather a beginning in making the system the best it can be. — Kurt Caywood, vice president of audience, Times-Union Media

    http://members.jacksonville.com/news/metro/2014-03-01/story/data-shows-one-third-floridas-top-educators-have-students-progressing

    http://members.jacksonville.com/opinion/premium-opinion/2014-02-28/story/florida-should-wait-till-teacher-evaluation-makes-sense

    http://members.jacksonville.com/opinion/premium-opinion/2014-02-28/story/why-times-union-sued-teacher-data

  20. devrie says:

    I think a teacher evaluation is helpful to teachers and to the education system in general; however, these evaluations take a little away from the real human element of evaluating performance. I wish there were more of a 360 approach to teacher evaluation in which testing scores were only a component of an educators overall “value.” Wouldn’t it be interesting if student surveys and parent surveys added to to the score? I’m sure there are teachers who are grinding their teeth at the thought; however, evaluating a teacher’s ability to motivate, inspire, and lead a child toward achieving his or her educational goals should be factored into the overall score.

    As a parent, it has been my experience that teachers are overwhelmingly attempting to help students achieve success in a constantly changing curriculum environment that migrates further and further away from a holistic approach toward education. I see teachers excited to motivate yet I sense a small bit of exacerbation in them with all of the curriculum requirements and changes happening all the time. They seem to want to integrate the students’ learning (combine concepts from math and science and reading, for example), but are confined to strict guidelines that inadvertently prevent that integration.

    A creative educator can find a way to motivate and inspire, but it seems to me that it’s becoming less and less possible for teachers to do that. Enter the economic and social constraints students from a wide range of backgrounds are facing when entering the classroom, and the teachers have very little power to effect change–while the parents are reaching from some distant shore trying to understand how to help.

  21. A.S.F. says:

    Oh, if we could only apply some of these stringent “prove to us that you’re worth it” actions to those on Wall Street and in the upper management tiers of Big business. Oh, I forgot! They are the JOB CREATORS! We dare not question them or the obscene paychecks and bonuses that THEY make…Although we DO get to bail them out (especially if they are in banking and finance) when they screw us lesser peons (including teachers) out of our life savings. I think, perhaps, that we may be targeting the wrong people for the wrath resulting from our frustrations.

  22. Kevin M. says:

    Hello Brad!
    I’m currently a Junior in high school, classified as “gifted”, and am currently enrolled in four (4) Advanced Placement classes.
    Unlike what popular opinion may say, there is a reason why teachers resist “real evaluations” based on “measurable items and accountability for performance”. Throughout our primary and secondary schooling careers, we students are trained to take standardized tests, such as the FCAT and End of Course Exams. In elementary and middle school, these tests are relatively important to us, since we don’t have other tests, such as the PSAT, SAT, ACT, etc., to worry about. In our freshmen year of high school, we are still in the middle school state of mind, and therefore take the FCAT very seriously (it also helps that our entire freshmen English class is dedicated to practicing for the FCAT that year). Once we get into our sophomore year, on the other hand, FCAT and End of Course become obsolete in our minds. Sophomore year is our introduction to the PSAT, (typically) Advanced Placement, and the time when we are told to start considered thing such as what college we want to attend, what career we wish to pursue, etc. As a gifted student, I have always taken the most difficult courses offered my my high school, and as a sophomore I was enrolled in all honors courses (including honors Pre-Calculus, which is the standard senior course) and one Advanced Placement class, World History (it was the only AP available to me at the time). My English teacher, Ms. Juanita Williams, was (and still is) the only Honors English teacher for sophomores at my school (Crooms Academy of Information Technology. Feel free to look it up, we only have around 600 students but are rated one of the top high schools in the country), and is also the only Advanced Placement English Language and Composition teacher at the school. Our sophomore year, similarly to our freshmen year, is mostly focused on preparation for the FCAT Reading and Writing tests. Ms. Williams has been teaching for the past nine (9) years and is consistently rated as an outstanding teacher. Ms. Williams has, ever year, some of the top AP scores in the county, Seminole County, which is one of the top rated counties in the state of Florida. Ms. Williams is not only one of the best, most caring teacher I’ve ever had, but is also a mentor and role model for all of her students, showing each one of us our true potential in life (even if it means massive amounts of homework and nearly impossible deadlines, we still get through it all and are better people because of it). Ms. Williams, even being as utterly fantastic of a teacher and person that she is, got a VAM score of negative eight (-8). Why is this? How could such an amazing teacher get such a low VAM score? It’s because she teaches the best students at the school – the ones who are above useless tests such as FCAT. I have consistently gotten top scores (4-5, 5-6 on writing) on every FCAT I have ever taken. With the majority of the students she teaches being like me, it is nearly impossible for us to increase our score since we are already getting the highest scores possible! By the time we get to our sophomore year, we students are focusing on tests and classes which will ACTUALLY HELP US in our future, such as ACT, FCAT, AP Exams, etc., NOT FCAT. As long as we pass (4 or better), which we all will without even trying, we don’t need to worry about FCAT. Unfortunately, the Florida Department of Education doesn’t recognize this, and consequently grades all of the AP and honors teachers considerably less than they should be graded while teachers who teach standard or remedial students are getting scores that are much higher because growth is, in fact, POSSIBLE.
    If you want an effective way of measuring the performance of our teachers, measure their overall performance not on standardized tests, but instead based on what each teacher teaches. An AP World History teacher shouldn’t be graded on honors English FCAT scores (which, by the way, they are).
    The VAM score isn’t an accurate report on the performance on teachers, but merely a method of evaluating teachers in a half-assed, bureaucratically-friendly way. This score isn’t to help teachers, but merely make the lives of the lazy, self-entitled bureaucrats that run the education systems easier.

  23. Toni Baker, Candidate for School Board says:

    I am reading all of this at 6:00 a.m. Sunday Morning. The VAM scores are a product of AIR “American Institute for Research”. Now we know what an inaccurate picture the VAM scores give, how will that work out regarding our new FSA tests? What a mess will that be! There is only one question to ask, do the individual school boards use these VAM scores? I have twins who are about to enter the 8th grade. One has a 504 and these wonderful teachers have gotten her through AP classes with straight A’s! She received a 93% on her civics EOC (new this year) because of this teacher. That teacher partnered with her twin’s teacher who received 100% on the same EOC.

    My daughter’s Algebra I teacher has ALWAYS had everyone pass his class and the EOC in 7th grade! Just as my daughter did. This year they are taking all AP and honors and will have 4 high school credits. How is this possible? The teachers care, are talented and dedicated, but most importantly, I have taught my children to care. The parents MUST get involved. We have got to reach them. I will not tolerate any “poverty, single parent” excuse! The state needs to get out of our way and let our teachers teach! How can we make that happen?

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