Push Back Against Value Added Evaluations, Arne Duncan and the LA Times

In Current Events, Education on September 7, 2010 at 02:27

High stakes testing promoted by the Bush and now the Obama administration is hurting teachers, minorities, and schools without improving education in America. The only one who benefits from this scheme is the test-makers such as McGraw-Hill who stand to make millions if every state uses their value-added tests (VAT). Value added tests would be used in conjunction with Obama’s new “Race to the Top” model of education. What the value added test does is compare the students from one year to the next on reading, math and writing tests to evaluate if they make advancement. Then it grades the teachers on this one test on a scale from very ineffective to very effective.

That one test was the sole criteria for the recent judging of teachers under the value-added method (VAM). VAM doesn’t take into account changes in curriculum from year to year or changes in students’ lives, biology, or economy when evaluating their change in scores.

And the state of California, once a leader in education, have started to use the VAT in the schools in the mistaken belief that more tests will improve schools. Moreover, the LA Times in all their wisdom have decided to publish the results.

“LAUSD educators who have spent years creating classroom environments that challenge and engage students suddenly woke up one morning to find themselves stamped “ineffective” or “effective” based solely on their students’ standardized test scores.” (link)

Yes, teachers’ names with their evaluation were published without consultation with the teachers. The “ineffective” teachers were found guilty without a trial. Sure, the LA Times sent out letter to tell the teachers that their names with their evaluations would be posted in the paper, but the teachers were not given a chance to refuse the publication or defend their teaching.

While the LA Times says the publication of the teachers names was to help parents with school age children, it’s an excuse used to justify their decision. Any parent who wants to know about a teachers’ evaluation can call the schools or see the administration of the schools to find out information about a teacher. The scores didn’t have to be printed for the world to read in the Times.

I call for a boycott of the LA Times from now until they apologize for printing teachers names with a “ineffective” or “effective” label on such a dubious basis: standardized test scores and a culturally mismatched test over a limited amount of time, without warning.

Please sign the petition.


The Deadline is September 14 when there is a planned march on the LA Times.

Writer Sikivu Hutchinson is dangerous because she supports critical thinking in the classroom and clearly states that testing is not the only, nor is it the best, way to evaluate teaching. (link)

Time and again studies from such organizations as Californians’ for Justice, Harvard Civil Right’s Project and UCLA’s Institute for Democracy have demonstrated the danger of relying upon standardized tests as the sole criteria for student achievement and teacher effectiveness. The strongest determinant of whether a teacher’s practice is effective is how well they develop culturally respectful relationships with students, create a caring yet rigorous atmosphere for critical inquiry and critical literacy, connect with students’ home cultures, and employ multiple teaching strategies such as instructional conversation, sparing use of lecture, extensive group work and creative and expository writing. (link)

This type of critical thinking is only going to create students with thinking skills that might grow up and start third parties, create alternative energy plants, cure cancer, at the very least write some original and entertaining music. And that’s dangerous.

She adds that VAT hurts students of color more often than others:

…the Obama administration’s fetishistic emphasis on test scores as the major barometer of teacher effectiveness, a linchpin of its “Race to the Top” initiative, is especially insidious for students of color. For example, the disproportionate suspension of African American students is a national epidemic that has been exacerbated by the NCLB high stakes testing regime. Disengaged from school curricula in which they are not meaningfully reflected, African American students have become ensnared in a public school disciplinary apparatus that fuels the nation’s prison complex.

Black students are disproportionally expelled for minor infractions of schools rules and drop out at much higher rates than whites and other minorities.

The value-added sham won’t help parents and communities of color struggling to achieve educational equity for youth who have already been intuitively assigned a jail cell by a public school culture marching in lockstep with the teach to the test ethos.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the editor of blackfemlens.org and a senior fellow with the Institute for Humanist Studies.

The American Conservative online version writes that Robert Buddin’s study for the Rand Corporation on teacher effectiveness has little value.

“By design, the Buddin study only measures changes in student performance over one year.” (link)

Freshman in a high school statistics class know you can’t get verifiable information in a one-off student test with a small sample set.

Value-added evaluations will create a need for more tests and thus increase test sales and make McGraw-Hill more money.

Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education supports the release of teacher data from the VAM study. Yet again, the Obama administration stands against individual rights as he has by continuing with Bush’s Patriot Act.

Mr. Duncan has run a $4 billion school-improvement competition — known as the “Race to the Top” — that led many states to change education laws to reflect his prescriptions. In May 2010, his department is distributing $3.5 billion for the overhaul of thousands of failing schools, and Mr. Duncan has been frequently to Capitol Hill to outline plans for a rewriting of the main federal law on public schools. (link)

Secretary Duncan is another one of Obama’s Chicago cronies that received a secretary position having little experience in the field, in this case education. Paul Street writes a scathing editorial highlighting Duncan’s love of charter schools, neo-liberalism and union busting. This type of ideologue should not be in the highest education office in the land. (link)

What Duncan did as head of Chicago schools is illuminating. He took credit for turning the schools around when they did turn around even according to the standards he promotes with “Race to the Top”.

Read More: (link 1) (link 2)

California Watch speaks against the LA Times list of Teachers Names

Researchers I talked with tell me that if this had been an academic study, the researchers would never have been given permission under human subject research guidelines to disclose the names of teachers.

Jennifer Imazeki, an economist at San Diego State University, wrote on John Fensterwald’s The Educated Guess:  “Regardless of how one feels about value-added, as a researcher, I’ve been shocked at the public disclosure of teachers’ names. Most researchers have to sign their lives away in confidentiality agreements if they want to use student-level data with individual identifiers. How in the world did the Times get their hands on this data without such an agreement?” (link)

Listen to the KPFK report on “value-added teaching” here:

Of course if you test more often, you will become better at testing. Thus, practiced students’ test scores increase. That doesn’t make students smarter.  It is yet another fallacy in the process of standardized tests.

Dan Goldhaber, one of the authors of the study, has ties through his work at the Center on Reinventing Public Education McGraw-Hill, the makers of the tests.

The Center on Reinventing Public Education, where Goldhaber worked on the study, is the outfit that hired the Rand Corporation to participate in the study using McGraw-Hill tests.

The American Conservative, not a hot bed of union support, says this method has little value in improving education.

In the meantime, teachers without Patton-esque motivational skills are going to get blamed for failing students.  Let’s give them a break.  In the long term, they’re probably not doing any worse than their colleagues. (link)

Why do teachers come under such heavy scrutiny and job pressure when CEO’s of major banks can ruin the economy and their companies and get paid huge bonuses and politicians that do nothing but obstruct laws or pass laws that are huge giveaways to special interests continue to get pay raises?

First, VAT is being promoted in an attempt to bust the teachers’ unions, one of the last unions with real political clout left in the United States. Secretary Duncan dislikes unions and supports union busting charter schools.

VAT is also part of the anti-intellectual climate in this nation. Teaching literacy and independent thought is a lot more expensive than teaching students to regurgitate facts on a test. There is also disrespect in this nation for the teaching profession.

Unless one has been a teacher in the K-12 system, it is hard to comprehend how difficult the job is. This ignorance leads Congress and states to pass laws to keep teachers on a tight leash. Teachers have to be kept on track (in line) with standardized testing and as much of their time filled with standardized curriculum. Teachers’ years of training, experience, curriculum building and study are devalued in this value-added model. No lawyer, doctor or Congressmen would allow themselves to be judged by such a narrow standard as Obama’s White House, Congress, and others ignorant of the teaching profession want to do with the VAM approach.

They must believe that if we don’t control teachers, they might go crazy and create hands on projects or give assignments where there are many valid approaches and strategies that might lead to a successful resolution.

No, the one size fits all model with a test for hundreds of thousand or millions of students in the same grade all over the nation is the best model because we know there is no variation in student populations based on geography, economic status, race, gender or upbringing. If we test them all the same, we can get rid of the troublesome teachers and students that don’t fit within our societies narrowly defined educational box. Conformity is best and will crush all creativity.

Thus, we won’t have another troublesome Eugene Deb, Howard Zinn, Medea Benjamin, Cornel West or Noam Chomsky running around. The only problem is that we have to find a way in this system to still nurture the next Ayn Rand. I’m open to suggestions.

Better yet, let’s just send them all the Kaplan for testing and cut out the middleman, the troublesome teachers. Then we can send them to Kaplan University.

Experts are Against the VAT, why is the White House for it?

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) convened experts in the field of education, expertise being what the current policy-makers lack, who came to the conclusion that “Any sound evaluation will necessarily involve a balancing of many factors that provide a more accurate view of what teachers in fact do in the classroom and how that contributes to student learning.” To put it simply, test scores shouldn’t be the only way to evaluate teachers.

It is important to evaluate workers, especially those that work with our kids. Therefore, we need to find measures that make a difference and aren’t destructively punitive. Using tests that cost millions of dollars is inefficient and expensive. Plus, there is no evidence to show that more testing means better teaching and more educated students, especially in the long run. Testing should be a small part of the evaluation process for teachers if used at all.

The LA Times Names the Names and Outs teachers based on Marginally significant data

Problems with the Use of Student Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers from the EPI

Read the report

Read how the test fails students

Sign the Petition and boycott the LA Times. Send the link to your friends in California and LA!


Write Obama to stop this travesty

President Obama
CO/ The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest
Washington, DC 20500-0004
or phone: (202) 456-1414

Or send note online:  http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact

Tex Shelters

  1. Personally I don’t think Unions have a place in educating our children, just like I don’t think religion has a place either. That said with the economy in the shape it’s in, the trade imbalance the US has with its so-called trading partners, and a host of other issues we are facing today pushes this issue to the bottom of the heap. Who Cares what the Teachers union has to say…

    • Jake,

      Unions proteect workers, and without them, we would be worse off and get paid less and have no protections.

      What does the trade imbalance have to do with people getting a fair shake. Workers in Germany and Scandenavia have more benefits and those nations have a lower trade imbalance.

      Unions are there to help workers, regardless of whether they are teachers or other workers. So the point is off target, except that this is a way to try to bust any protections workers have in California.

      Tex Shelters

  2. BTW, since the Teachers are employees of the state/taxpayer and educating our children, their teaching records, their successes and failures, should be public record for all to see. If they don’t want to be publicly evaluated than they should choose a different job that doesn’t involve working for the taxpayer.

    • There records are availabe to the parents. It’s a type of outing based on data that is dubious.

      Tex Shelters

      • Tex, I personally believe the fault lies more with the parents than the teachers. Parents need to be literate first. The parent who is illiterate, never home or just lays the entire burden at the teachers feet are just begging to have their child fail. As far as just parents having the right to know? That’s BS, the entire community has a vested interest in this and since the entire community pays for it the entire community has a right to know. We take test to get Jobs, we take test to get into higher education, since I’m a hazardous material tank driver I’m being tested more than most. Test have their place, if students and teachers have a problem with it too bad, they need to get the scores up and I also believe they should look into the home and hold parents equally responsible if not more so for their kids low scores.

        • Jake,

          You make sense. It a responsibility of many people. Moreover, there are more ways to evaluate students than a written test. I got a massage therapy liscence and I had to give my teacher a massage and be testing on the anatomy on the spot during the hands on treatment.

          I think writing papers and speeches and doing research can also demonstrate mastery.

          But everyone should pass a multiplication quiz before leaving the third grade. There are some standards that need to be evaluated, for sure.

          Doctors and Lawyers take boards or comprehensive exams, and I’m glad for that. And Pilots also have to be recertified. But, thankfully, they had to do flight training and demonstrate their skills.

          Tex Shelters

          • “Moreover, there are more ways to evaluate students than a written test.”

            They already are Tex, my son for instance pretty much aced all his test in school so much so he was pretty bored with the day to day stuff that he didn’t get a HS Diploma. Thing is he went down to get a GED and aced that without any prep or studying, he scored in the top one percent for our state, got the Einstein award and a bunch of scholarship offers to boot. He’s doing fine at Purdue taking engineering courses heavy in math now. My son fell thru the cracks; he knew the material and was bored with the work that was put in place to evaluate students on a broader scale that had trouble with the tests.

            • Unfortunately, the Race to the Top promoters look at students only as a test score on a sheet of paper disassociated from the individual and the teacher is just a set of student scores.

              Congrats to your son. Purdue is great school and I am glad he can get through with some help.

              Tex Shelters

  3. The same folks who have bought the Unions are Bad Things propaganda, who think giving MORE welfare to the top 1% will create jobs, etc., etc. probably think that education doesn’t really matter and teachers should just shut up, teach to the corrupt corporate tests… and throw in a little anti-Constitutional Xtian Taliban sanity-and-history-twistin’ instruction while they’re at it.


    When I saw that President Obama had appointed Duncan, yet another layer of my silly hope that we’d actually elected a Democrat went by the wayside. I’m embarrassed to say that, at that point, this old woman still thought being a Democrat meant something entirely different than it now does.

    Unlike my Obama/Rahm/etc.-apologist friends (bless ’em) who keep clinging to the hope that the neofeudalist Dems will miraculously stop out-Republicaning-Reagan and/ or who ascribe all the neofeudalist Dem behaviors to some sophisticated top secret plan where these neofeudalists will suddenly turn into populists at a later date, I say: Enough with the magical thinking. If it walks and talks and acts like a neofeudalist, it IS a neofeudalist. And a tiny handful of old-fashioned exceptions to the New Bipartisan Feudalists does NOT a populist party make…

  4. Little Sun,

    “And a tiny handful of old-fashioned exceptions to the New Bipartisan Feudalists does NOT a populist party make…”

    Exactly. I keep saying that on posts that defend Obama to the hilt.

    Really, he has failed in our time of need. So far. When he works for the people, I will aplaud him.

    Tex Shelters

  5. Thanks for this article!
    Join us at: http://facebook.com/BoycottLATimes
    we’ve got a lot of discussion going on & you’re welcome to post related links!

  6. I’m not certain about that one test in particular, but how else should a teacher’s job performance be measured than by how well the students learn? All tenure should be illegal.

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