Bye, Bye, VAM!

VAM Formula
The VAM Formula

If you’re a teacher in Florida, you know all about VAM. Back in 2009, teacher accountability became all the rage, and by the legislative session in the spring of 2010 members of both the House and Senate were putting forth various bills to measure teacher effectiveness. SB6 sponsored by Senator John Thrasher was the first to emerge fully formed, and it was the first that I am aware of to propose the use of VAM, or the “Value Added Model.”

I am a teacher, not a widget. I don’t come off an assembly line, and neither do my students or their learning gains. We are human beings, so I immediately took umbrage with a term we often associate with products we buy, sell, and consume. I was so upset, in fact, that I wrote a letter to the editor of the now defunct Tampa Tribune, and it was featured on the front page of the Opinion section that Sunday. If you’d like to read it, click here, as the words I wrote are still relevant today.

Even though HB7069 is a train wreck…er, train bill, one of the *VERY FEW* good pieces of the legislation is that school districts can now opt out of using VAM as part of the teacher evaluation process. Though it unfortunately takes the Florida Legislature years to realize they’ve implemented bad policy, I’ll give them credit for finally acknowledging it, even if they only did so tacitly by burying something like this in a giant bill.

If you read the post on Facebook that took you to Jeff Solochek’s piece about VAM being eliminated in Citrus County, you know that one of the School Board members, Thomas Kennedy, advocated for its removal (thank you, sir!). Perhaps most importantly, Solochek notes that “other districts are also preparing similar moves.” I sure hope that means here in Hillsborough County Public Schools.

I’ve always thought VAM was suspect for lots of reasons, the least of which was the dismissive way teachers in our district were told by top brass that “you’d need a PhD in Mathematics to understand it.” Nothing like opaque and vague formulas to determine your worth as a teacher, I guess.

The truth is, I never liked VAM for one simple reason that every teacher will agree upon: teaching is more art than science. It’s more how you connect with kids and the relationships you build with them, not how well they do on a standardized test. When you add in the fact that VAM is inequitable in its application (is it fair to judge a P.E. Coach by the school’s overall reading scores?) and that many kids pencil-whip tests because they know the curves are so ridiculously generous, what does that number really even mean?

Nothing.

VAM has never been anything but a charade that has caused consternation for teachers everywhere throughout the state of Florida. Let’s lobby our individual districts to get rid of this mathematical chicanery for good.

VAM Formula Fixed
Here’s how the VAM formula should really read

5 Comments

    1. I am sorry to hear that you’ve experienced health issues, Beth. Stress is no joke (I believe chronic stress made the cover of the New England Journal of Medicine a few years back as “the health epidemic of the 21st century”), and I hope you’ve found ways to cope. Hopefully now that summer is here you have some down time to recuperate and rejuvenate with your family and friends. Thanks for reading the post and becoming part of the conversation, Beth! Take care, – Ryan

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  1. My summer gig is working with SAT/ACT test takers to raise their grades. The company I work for is national and has an established program. It’s awesome to be able to see exactly what the strengths and weaknesses of each student are and address them. Too bad the system we’re using in Hillsborough county is so overly complex and “top secret” that it makes that difficult , at best.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Dennis.

      Totally unrelated, but if anyone were to ask about SAT/ACT test prep help (if they wanted to take one of the tests to try and earn the Best and Brightest Scholarship) would you mind if I shared your email with him/her? I won’t do so publicly, of course; only via email and only if you approve.

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