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Wednesday, Nov 26, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: Teacher evaluation tool pure gibberish

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A lot of words come to mind when trying to make sense of the formula the state has mandated to evaluate how well public school teachers are doing their jobs.

Gobbledygook is one.

Gibberish.

Bureaucratic baloney.

I could go on, but I think you get the point.

The so-called value-added model (VAM) used by the state as part of the measurement of the classroom performance of some (not all) teachers is nuttiness squared. Tampa Tribune reporter Erin Kourkounis reported on the details of the program in Monday’s paper, and included in the package was the actual equation used to help judge the teacher.

Trying to describe the formula’s complexity would be futile. It looks like something you would expect to see in a college calculus class, and that’s the problem. It measures everything except the most important thing.

VAM includes things like learning disabilities, class size, and the number of times a student has changed schools. But where is the box that measures how many times the student slept through class after staying up until 3 a.m. texting and playing video games?

Home life is, was and always will be a major predictor of academic success. Everyone knows it, but precious few leaders really want to address it publicly.

Do the student’s parents stress the importance of education? Do they hold their child accountable? You’d be surprised how many parents lay the blame on the teacher for any shortcoming by their child. Kids pick up on that and know there are no consequences for giving little or no effort.

Then there are those whose home lives are a wreck. There isn’t a VAM measure for a student who bounces from mom’s house, to dad’s house, to a cousin’s house, and then maybe to grandma’s house.

That’s one reason school officials objected to having these scores made public until they were forced to by an open-records lawsuit by the Florida Times-Union. These scores can destroy teachers’ reputations by not factoring in things they can’t control.

That’s not to say teachers shouldn’t be evaluated.

Of course they should be, just like every other employee of basically every industry in the country. It’s hard to find another line of work, though, where workers are affected by as many outside factors as they are in education.

When you get politicians and bureaucrats involved, you get things like VAM. Our education system has long since gone test-crazy, but all that proves is that students can pass tests. Teachers can become robotic, just teaching the next test.

With so much of their future employment tied to test scores and other artificial measures, I can’t blame them.

That doesn’t mean it’s working.

The people in charge of education in this state should listen, especially when it comes to VAM.

I laughed out loud, really, when I saw the evaluation formula displayed on Page 11-A in your Monday Tampa Trib. If you missed it, go to the recycle bin and look it up. I suspect you will laugh, too.

Education is supposed to explain, explore and make complex concepts understandable. VAM does none of that, and there is only one solution. Hit the delete key and come up with something that makes sense instead of this indecipherable nonsense.

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