- Published: Monday, 16 May 2016 17:25
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court of the State of New York sided with educators in the fight against VAM (value-added modeling), calling an algorithm-based teacher evaluation “arbitrary and capricious.”
Long Island fourth-grade teacher and union member Sheri Lederman bravely took on the state’s VAM-based evaluations with a straightforward argument: Using a black-box formula to evaluate and punish teachers is, simply put, wrong.
The court agreed. We urge every teacher in the country to read an excellent article about what this case means for our profession.
In Sheri's case, the judge based his decision upon, among other things, (1) “convincing and detailed evidence of bias against teachers at both ends of the spectrum,” (2) lack of any explanation for statistically significant swings in Sheri's evaluations when her student scores were similar year after year, and (3) that grading teachers on a predetermined "curve" that required an arbitrary number of teachers to fail and limited the number of highly effective teachers had no rational justification. Therefore, the judge threw out Sheri's faulty evaluation.
Sheri and her lawyer husband brought in some of the top experts in the country to dismantle this flawed system. The Ledermans corresponded with one of the leading proponents of VAM and obtained a concession that VAM scores “may be too high one year, too low in another." In a remarkable email exchange, which was submitted to the court, this renowned VAM proponent acknowledged that test scores are themselves imperfect measures of student achievement and as a result “any given VAM observation may be higher or lower than a teacher’s true performance.”
Teachers and our unions have been saying it for years: VAM is unreliable, unstable and unfair. In state after state, that’s proven true.
And, like Sheri did in New York, the AFT is working to discredit VAM across the country.
When the unions brought a case in New Mexico, a judge ordered a preliminary injunction based on our evidence, preventing the state from using its VAM-based evaluations for high-stakes purposes until it can prove that the system is fair.
In Houston, another case brought by a group of courageous teachers with the AFT’s support will be heard this summer.
Here’s the simple truth that VAM proponents and the test-and-punish crowd just can’t seem to get: Classroom learning can’t be boiled down to a number.
Learning is highly qualitative, and full of things that can’t be measured with a test score or an algorithm. Reducing student achievement and the contribution educators make to a formula grossly misunderstands the learning process.
The ruling in Sheri’s case can now be cited in litigation all over the country. The tide is turning. In New York, the evaluation system is already being rebuilt from the ground up, and politicians who originally pushed VAM testing are walking it back. In other states, the Every Student Succeeds Act is creating the leeway for educators, parents and legislators to work together to create evaluation systems designed to support education, not to punish educators.
And in places where the test-and-punish crowd is still pushing wrong-headed evaluation systems, your union is fighting in the courts, in the statehouses and in the court of public opinion to make sure educators are treated with respect and students are given a fair chance.
The AFT is deeply committed to fighting back against unfair, punitive measures that hurt teachers and students and fighting for resources that our educators need. The AFT thanks Sheri for her efforts, which will benefit teachers throughout the country. Sheri is proud to be a member of the union, which is fighting this battle. VAM—used for individual teacher evaluations—is a sham. We will continue to fight until it’s discredited everywhere.