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  1. Opinion

There is no ‘value-added’ in forcing good teachers out of struggling Florida schools | Editorial

Florida should not let one flawed measure disrupt learning in schools trying to turn themselves around.
Fifth grade teacher Michelle Brandon is one of four Hudson Elementary School teachers to be removed after two weeks of classes because of her state VAM score. Here she reviews classroom rules with students on the first day of school 2019. [JEFFREY SOLOCHEK | Times]
Published Sep. 24

It doesn’t matter if the teacher is effective. It doesn’t matter if the teacher has received good evaluations from the principal. Under counterproductive state law, teachers at struggling schools can face mandatory reassignment if their so-called “value-added model” score is too low. That arbitrary rule has forced good teachers out of classrooms where they are most needed, and the state should change this dysfunctional practice before it causes even more harm to vulnerable students.

The “value-added model” -- VAM -- attempts to measure how much a teacher contributes to a student’s gains in math and reading by comparing what a student is projected to learn over a school year with what the student actually does learn, based on standardized tests. A teacher is credited for a student who does better than expected, and held accountable for one who does worse. In theory, this is not a bad idea. In practice, it’s messy, inconclusive and controversial. It would take an incredibly sophisticated VAM mechanism to distill a year’s learning to one meaningful score. Many experts don’t see it as a valid measure at all, and even accountability-obsessed Florida school officials no longer require it in teacher evaluations. But state law still requires its use in “turnaround” schools, so designated because of their D and F grades. The goal is to remove ineffective teachers from classrooms where students struggle the most. But the result can be counter-productive.

One of the teachers interviewed by the Tampa Bay Times’ Jeffrey Solochek was Michelle Brandon, a Pasco teacher at Hudson Elementary, who was reassigned despite being evaluated as “highly effective” by her principal. One of her students scored above grade level on state exams, but his achievement was still a strike against her rating because he didn’t meet the even higher VAM projection. Others made double-digit gains, but because they didn’t progress past the lowest level on their exams, still counted against her. The result? She left that classroom just as the school year was under way and routines were established. This is not the way to save struggling schools.

Polk County had to reassign 18 teachers because of their VAM scores, just as the new school year started. “One of our schools was left without a regular fifth-grade teacher,” a Polk School Board member told Solochek.

Worse, teachers who don’t even teach math or reading receive VAM scores based on the school’s average, not what they’ve done in the classroom. They are judged on variables they can’t even influence.

The answer is not that complex. Put in place a good principal -- a good leader -- and let her run the school and build support. If she rates a teacher “highly effective,” the state should trust her judgment and not micromanage by wielding a flawed VAM score as a cudgel. It’s one thing to measure performance in the classroom. It’s another to use a faulty measurement that unfairly punishes some good teachers and deprives students who need them.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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