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Public Release of VAM Scores – My Thoughts

A couple of days ago, teachers across Florida received the news that the Florida Department of Education and the Florida Educators Association had lost a legal battle to keep VAM (Value Added Measurements…aka a teacher’s evaluation data) out of the public eye.

Oh yes, the media had flexed its powerful arms and fought mightily to have this data made available to the public at large.

Not only can the media request it but parents can as well.

What does this mean?

Basically, if people want to see my VAM score from last year, they can.

Here are my thoughts…given by a fourth-year teacher who’s still learning the ropes, mind you.

VAM scores are determined by many different factors.  I posted the ridiculous formula somewhere on my blog last year (BTW, this is why I am not a math teacher, although most of ours can’t figure out this formula).

VAM scores supposedly compare students across the state.

Yeah.  Right.

One huge factor in the VAM scores is data from FCAT and other standardized exams.  The State of Florida looks for learning gains, in the case of FCAT, and pass/fail in the case of other exams such as End of Course, which might sound simple if you don’t work in the trenches…i.e. in the classroom…but is, in actuality, not so simple at all.

The VAM scores do not take into consideration students’ attendance records, discipline history (and, thus, time spent out of the classroom because of behavior infractions), emotional ups and downs that prevent students from focusing, hunger, homelessness, and neglect, whether intentional or unintentional by parents who cannot or will not devote the attention needed to raise well-rounded young adults.

Here is my beef.

If someone wants to look at a teacher’s VAM score, that’s all well and good; however, that person is only going to get one side of the story.

The person won’t know that a certain student skips class three out of the five days each week, nor will the person know that many of a teacher’s students come to school hungry each day.  This affects learning because those children cannot focus in class because they are too exhausted from empty bellies.

Is there a place in the VAM equation that allows for these factors?

I rather doubt it.

What about the kids who leave directly from school, work until 8 or 9pm, stay up past midnight doing homework, forget to eat in the process, and get maybe three or four hours of sleep.

That’s the norm, my friends, especially in schools where a household is lucky if it has one working parent.  Students are often called upon to fill in the gap with their minimum-wage jobs.

What about the students who miss half of the school year because they have to stay home and care for younger siblings because their parents are unable to do so themselves?

Will the person who requests VAM information be privy to the inside information?

Heck no.

I have nothing to hide.  I am not ashamed of my VAM score.

Do you want to know why?

It’s because I don’t measure success by one incomprehensible number that some freakingly ridiculous person-who-thinks-he/she-is-the-end-all-be-all-to-all-things-teaching-and-math-related.

I know what happens in my classroom.

I build relationships with students who don’t have people at home to talk to.

I hold children accountable for their actions by requiring them to show up to class on time, in school dress code, ready to work a solid ninety minutes.

I build up my students’ confidence by praising them for their daily accomplishments, however large or small the steps might be.

I feed their bellies and their minds.

I create readers because of my love of reading.

I foster an environment where we talk about life, manners, and curriculum.

The public will never see these things because the public isn’t in the classroom for the 48,600 minutes that I am each year (I did the math on the calculator).

The VAM formula doesn’t have a place for those things because they can’t be measured.

Truly do I love my job, but I don’t think that many outside of education understand that one number or rating isn’t a complete reflection of how effective a teacher is.

Evidence of a Highly Effective teacher can be seen in the proud strut of a high school senior on graduation night is one measurement…

The hug a teacher gets when a student visits the following year…

The trust a teacher sees reflected in the eyes of twenty-six students who have sat down to take FCAT Writes…a trust that the teacher has done everything he/she can do to prepare said students for the writing test.

So, to those who want to look at a teacher’s VAM, exercise your legal right, by all means, but please remember before you start pointing fingers or sit down in judgement, that teachers are human beings teaching little human beings who are trying to deal with all of the crap that life throws their way (the teachers kind of have a lot of crap thrown their way too, truth be told).

Just as one performance isn’t the measure of a singer or actor, one score isn’t the measure of a teacher.  A lifetime of teaching hundreds of children…well, that’s the true measure.

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