**NOTE: Newer content has been added about Florida's Value-Added Model since the publication of this post. Click here for additional information and updates.**
The recent lawsuit filed by The Florida Times-Union against the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) for the release of two year's teacher evaluation data for all Florida teachers brings the topic of the Value-Added Model to the public eye. In October of last year, the Times-Union requested the evaluation data for all teachers in Florida as they are considered to be public record. However, the Department of Education is waiting for the Attorney General's Office's opinion with regard to which part of the data should be public record due to confidentiality issues. The renewed controversy about the Value-Added Model gives us the opportunity to briefly review what the model consists of and how it will be used in the near future.
In an era of accountability and high stakes testing, measuring teachers' impact on student achievement and learning growth remains a national and state challenge. The Student Success Act and Race to the Top establish that teacher evaluations should be based on sound educational principles in at least three major areas: student performance, instructional practice, and professional and job responsibilities. In Florida, at least 50 percent of the teacher evaluation will be based on students' learning growth measured by statewide assessments.
The Value-Added Model is a statistical model that uses students' academic performance history on the math and reading portions of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) to predict future performance, and then compares their actual results to that predicted performance. The idea of the model is to account for the teacher effect by measuring the difference between predicted performance and actual results - i.e., the "value added" by the teacher beyond what a student would have been expected to achieve based on past history alone.
For example, if a fourth grader's FCAT score in the previous year was 200, it is expected that this year the student will have a score of 300. If the student obtains a score higher than 300, anything above and beyond that is considered value added that is attributed to the teacher.
The new teacher evaluation model is expected to enhance teacher evaluation in two ways: the Value-Added Model component allows aggregation (over time, over grades, over subject), and the model results provide more detailed differentiation between teachers by using four categories (Highly Effective, Effective, Needs Improvement and Unsatisfactory), as opposed to previous models which only rated teachers as either Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory.
The Value-Added Model portion accounts for different levels of students' academic proficiency, and different student, classroom and school characteristics, which is part of the reality that teachers face every day. The Department of Education states that one of the advantages of this model is that it levels the playing field so that teachers are neither positively nor negatively evaluated based on the characteristics of the individual students in their classrooms.
Even though it is clear that a value-added score is a just an estimate of the teacher effect, with a margin of error, it is an important step towards accountability and an evidence supported system that brings teacher evaluation to a different arena.
Potential issues and consequences
A concern raised by many regarding the formula of the Value-Added Model is the fact that it does not specifically account for different student-level factors, such as race/ethnicity, gender or socioeconomic status. The Florida Department of Education has explained that there is no need to include these variables in the formula due to the fact that the model predicts individual student performance based on past individual performance, controlling for school-level differences.
For teachers, one potentially major consequence of using the Value-Added Model is that their job security as well their pay will be dependent on their students' performance on a single test. Issues such as a student not being a good test taker, having a bad day or an anxiety attack may have a significant impact in a teacher evaluation for a whole year's work.
The implementation of the new teacher evaluation model in Florida has been highly contested. Some teachers contend that so much testing punishes students who are not able to perform at the expected level, and that grades or test scores do not capture what really happens in the classroom.
Other challenges of the model include the matching of teachers and students. Some teachers argue that they have been evaluated based on the scores of students they did not teach.
Duval County context
In the case of Duval County, the first release of data for the 2011-12 year indicated that 93.5 percent of teachers were classified as either Highly Effective or Effective.
The implementation of the Value-Added Model has been highly controversial around the state of Florida. Locally, the Value-Added Model is used as part of the Collaborative Assessment System for Teachers (CAST) that also includes observations from the administrator of the school throughout the academic year. The Value-Added Model, which measures student growth, will account for half of the teachers' evaluation; the other half will be based on the principals' observation and evaluation of teachers' performance.
The use of the Value-Added Model is still in the implementation phase around the state of Florida. The complexity of the statistical model is one of the factors that make some stakeholders resistant since it is not easy to understand how the scores are calculated. Criticism to the model and its ability to measure teachers' effect on student learning are rising. However, as some have pointed out, it is preferable to have an imperfect measurement than no measurement at all.
We will continue to monitor the Times-Union's lawsuit for individual teacher results in the state of Florida. In the meantime, you can find more detail information about teacher evaluation results at the district and school levels on the Florida Department of Education's website at the links below.
-- Maira Martelo