The "Value" of Value-Added Data


Gary Rubinstein has a very in-depth critque of the value-added method. It would probably be best to allow you to read him in his own words. His blog is

"The New York Times, yesterday, released the value-added data on 18,000 New York City teachers collected between 2007 and 2010.  Though teachers are irate and various newspapers, The New York Post, in particular, are gleeful, I have mixed feelings.

For sure the ‘reformers’ have won a battle and have unfairly humiliated thousands of teachers who got inaccurate poor ratings.  But I am optimistic that this will be be looked at as one of the turning points in this fight.  Up until now, independent researchers like me were unable to support all our claims about how crude a tool value-added metrics still are, though they have been around for nearly 20 years.  But with the release of the data, I have been able to test many of my suspicions about value-added.  Now I have definitive and indisputable proof which I plan to write about for at least my next five blog posts.
The tricky part about determining the accuracy of these value-added calculations is that there is nothing to compare them to.  So a teacher gets an 80 out of 100 on her value added — what does this mean?  Does it mean that the teacher would rank 80 out of 100 on some metric that took into account everything that teacher did?  As there is no way, at present, to do this, we can’t really determine if the 80 was the ‘right’ score.  All we can say is that according to this formula, this teacher got an 80 out of 100.  So what we need to ‘check’ how good of a measure these statistics are some ‘objective’ truths about teachers — I will describe three which we will see if the value-added measures support.
On The New York Times website they chose to post a limited amount of data.  They have the 2010 rating for the teacher and also the career rating for the teacher.  These two pieces of data fail to demonstrate the year-to-year variability of these value-added ratings.
I analyzed the data to see if they would agree with three things I think every person would agree upon:
1)  A teacher’s quality does not change by a huge amount in one year.  Maybe they get better or maybe they get worse, but they don’t change by that much each year.
2)  Teachers generally improve each year.  As we tweak our lessons and learn from our mistakes, we improve.  Perhaps we slow down when we are very close to retirement, but, in general, we should get better each year.
3)  A teacher in her second year is way better than that teacher was in her first year.  Anyone who taught will admit that they managed to teach way more in their second year.  Without expending so much time and energy on classroom management, and also by not having to make all lesson plans from scratch, second year teachers are significantly better than they were in their first year.
Maybe you disagree with my #2.  You may even disagree with #1, but you would have to be crazy to disagree with my #3.
Though the Times only showed the data from the 2009-2010 school year, there were actually three files released, 2009-2010, 2008-2009, and 2007-2008.  So what I did was ‘merge’ the 2010 and 2009 files.  Of the 18,000 teachers in the 2009-2010 data I found that about 13,000 of them also had ratings from 2008-2009.
Looking over the data, I found that 50% of the teachers had a 21 point ‘swing’ one way or the other.  There were even teachers who had gone up or down as much as 80 points.  The average change was 25 points.  I also noticed that 49% of the teachers got lower value-added in 2010 than they did in 2009, contrary to my experience that most teachers improve from year to year.
I made a scatter plot with each of these 13,000 teacher’s 2008-2009 score on the x-axis and their 2009-2010 score on the y-axis.  If the data was consistent, one would expect some kind of correlation with points clustered on an upward sloping line.  Instead, I got:

With a correlation coefficient of .35 (and even that is inflated, for reasons I won’t get into right now), the scatter plot shows that teachers are not consistent from year to year, contrary to my #1, nor do a good number of them go up, contrary to my #2.  (You might argue that 51% go up, which is technically ‘most,’ but I’d say you’d get about 50% with a random number generator — which is basically what this is.)
But this may not sway you since you do think a teacher’s ability can change drastically in one year and also think that teachers get stale with age so you are not surprised that about half went down.
Then I ran the data again.  This time, though I used only the 707 teachers who were first year teachers in 2008-2009 and who stayed for a second year in 2009-2010.  Just looking at the numbers, I saw that they were similar to the numbers for the whole group.  The median amount of change (one way or the other) was still 21 points.  The average change was still 25 points.  But the amazing thing which definitely proves how inaccurate these measures are, the percent of first year teachers who ‘improved’ on this metric in their second year was just 52%, contrary to what every teacher in the world knows — that nearly every second year teacher is better in her first year.  The scatter plot for teachers who were new teachers in 2008-2009 has the same characteristics of the scatter plot for all 13,000 teachers.  Just like the graph above, the x-axis is the value-added score for the first year teacher in 2008-2009 while the y-axis is the value-added score for the same teacher in her second year during 2009-2010.

So what can be more crazy than a teacher being rated highly effective one year and then highly ineffective the next?  How about a teacher being rated highly effective and highly ineffective IN THE SAME YEAR.
I will show in this post how exactly that happened for hundreds of teachers in 2010.  By looking at the data I noticed that of the 18,000 entries in 2010, about 6,000 were repeated names.  This is because there are two ways that one teacher can get multiple value-added ratings for the same year.
The most common way this happens is when the teacher is teaching self-contained elementary in 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade.  The students take the state test in math and in language arts and that teacher gets two different effectiveness ratings.  So a teacher might, according to the formula, ‘add’ a lot of ‘value’ when it comes to math, but ‘add’ little ‘value’ (or even ‘subtract’ value) when it comes to language arts.
To those who don’t know a lot about education (yes, I’m talking to you ‘reformers’), it might seem reasonable that a teacher can do an excellent job in math and a poor job in language arts and should not be surprising if the two scores for that teacher do not correlate.  But those who do know about teaching would expect the amount the students to learn to correlate since someone who is doing an excellent job teaching math is likely to be doing an excellent job teaching language arts since both jobs are set up by some common groundwork that benefits all learning in the class.  The teacher has good classroom management.  The teacher has helped her students to be self-motivated.  The teacher has a relationship with the families.  All these things increase the amount of learning of every subject taught.  So even if an elementary teacher is a little stronger in one subject than another, it is more about the learning environment that the teacher created than anything else.
Looking through the data I noticed teachers, like a 5th grade teacher at P.S. 196 who scored 97 out of 100 in language arts and 2 out of 100 in math.  This is with the same students in the same year!  How can a teacher be so good and so bad at the same time?  Any evaluation system in which this can happen is extremely flawed, of course, but I wanted to explore if this was a major outlier or if it was something quite common.  I ran the numbers and the results shocked me (which is pretty hard to do).  Here’s what I learned:
Out of 5,675 elementary school teachers, the average difference between the two scores was a whopping 22 points.  One out of six teachers, or approximately 17%, had a difference of 40 or more points.  One out of 25 teachers, which was 250 teachers altogether, had a difference of 60 or more points, and, believe it or not, 110 teachers, or about 2% (that’s one out of fifty!) had differences of 70 or more points.  At the risk of seeming repetitive, let me repeat that this was the same teacher, the same year, with the same kids.  Value-added was more inaccurate than I ever imagined.
I made a scatter plot of the 5,675 teachers.  On the x-axis is that teacher’s language arts score for 2010.  On the y-axis is that same teacher’s math score for 2010.  There is almost no correlation.
For people who know education, this is shocking, but there are people who probably are not convinced by my explanation that these should be more correlated if the formulas truly measured learning.  Some might think that this really just means that just like there are people who are better at math than language arts and vice versa, there are teachers who are better at teaching math than language arts and vice versa.
So I ran a different experiment for those who still aren’t convinced.  There is another scenario where a teacher got multiple ratings in the same year.  This is when a middle school math or language arts teacher teaches multiple grades in the same year.  So, for example, there is a teacher at M.S. 35 who taught 6th grade and 7th grade math.  As these scores are supposed to measure how well you advanced the kids that were in your class, regardless of their starting point, one would certainly expect a teacher to get approximately the same score on how well they taught 6th grade math and 7th grade math.  Maybe you could argue that some teachers are much better at teaching language arts than math, but it would take a lot to try to convince someone that some teachers are much better at teaching 6th grade math than 7th grade math.  But when I went to the data report for M.S. 35 I found that while this teacher scored 97 out of 100 for 6th grade math, she only scored a 6 out of 100 for 7th grade math.
Again, I investigated to see if this was just a bizarre outlier.  It wasn’t.  In fact, the spreads were even worse for teachers teaching one subject to multiple grades than they were for teaching different subjects to the same grade.
Out of 665 teachers who taught two different grade levels of the same subject in 2010, the average difference between the two scores was nearly 30 points.  One out of four teachers, or approximately 28%, had a difference of 40 or more points.  Ten percent of the teachers had differences of 60 points or more, and a full five percent had differences of 70 points or more.  When I made my scatter plot with one grade on the x-axis and the other grade on they y-axis I found that the correlation coefficient was a miniscule .24
Rather than report about these obvious ways to check how invalid these metrics are and how shameful it is that these scores have already been used in tenure decisions, or about how a similarly flawed formula will be used in the future to determine who to fire or who to give a bonus to, newspapers are treating these scores like they are meaningful.  The New York Post searched for the teacher with the lowest score and wrote an article about ‘the worst teacher in the city’ with her picture attached.  The New York Times must have felt they were taking the high-road when they did a similar thing but, instead, found the ‘best’ teachers based on these ratings.
I hope that these two experiments I ran, particularly the second one where many teachers got drastically different results teaching different grades of the same subject, will bring to life the realities of these horrible formulas.  Though error rates have been reported, the absurdity of these results should help everyone understand that we need to spread the word since calculations like these will soon be used in nearly every state.
I’ve never asked the people who read my blog to do this before since I prefer that it happen spontaneously, but I’d ask for you to spread the word about this post.  Tweet it, email it, post it on Facebook.  Whatever needs to happen for this to go ‘viral,’ I’d appreciate it.  I don’t do this for money or for personal glory.  I do it because I can’t stand when people lie and teachers, and yes those teachers’ students, get hurt because of it.  I write these posts because I can’t stand by and watch it happen anymore.  All you have to do is share it with your friends."

What is success?


Recently, the Chairman of the City Council, Kwame Brown, held a hearing on a bill that he hoped would revolutionize the school system. It was met with a cool reception by DCPS and the DCPCSB, who both stated that they did not like the bill, while OSSE (the body that regulates both the public and charter schools) said that they stood in full support of that bill. And what was so revolutionary about that bill? What did it do? It would require all D.C. high school students to take either the SAT or ACT and apply to at least one post-secondary institution in order to graduate. You can read about it hereCollege Prep Bill.

The Chairman's logic is easy to follow, and many perhaps would agree with it. There can be little doubt that it is heartfelt. If students take the SAT or ACT then they will be motivated to apply to a college or university. It's a tough love idea.

But here are some questions to ask: how will this effect the dropout rate? Will special ed students be exempt? How will students be motivated to take these extra tests?

These are valid questions, but they fail to get at the root of the issue, which is this, what is success?

In our day and age success is increasingly being tied to the idea that you have as much as you can get. That you have the highest education possible, the most money, a nice house, and a nice car, which, we are told by the media and others, will equal a happy life. Because the cost of living is increasingly rising, you will need these jobs in order to survive, and to get these jobs you need a higher education, which perpetuates this circle.

At to this the rhetoric that schools are to promote college readiness. We must prepare the future, we must make sure all students graduate, and all students go to college, and when you graduate you get it nice paying job (a few years ago the college graduation rate was 55.5% check this). And to ensure that students are college ready, we must standardize the knowledge and the tests, so that we can ensure that students are progressing to reach this goal of going to college.

This goal seems believable, and it is even laudable, but it is extremely lofty.

Why are students not allowed to pursue what they want to? Do you really need a nice house and car to be happy? I know society tells you that's what you need, but does that really equal success?

Education should be about awakening a desire in students to pursue a particular field of interest. This is not compatible with with standardization.

Point in case, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. College dropouts. Very successful men. Not just because they made a lot of money and could pay entire countries, but because they pursued a dream and achieved it. But by todays standards, they would be utter failures because they refused to play by the standardized rules, and now ironically Mr. Gates is one of the biggest supporters of standardization (but that a rant for another day).

The reality is not everyone will go to college. And the further reality is not everyone will graduate from college (see above). But does that mean they are failures because they don't work a 9 - 5? Rather, we as a society have failed them because we have not allowed to pursue what they want to be. Instead of demeaning them and their professions, we should allow then to pursue what they want to be, and if they want to and chose to follow the "standard" path we should allow for that too.

Happiness and success can be found in the most "unlikely" of places.

Special Ed "Conversation"


Apparently, the District is finding the need to "start a conversation about what quality special education practices should look like in the District of Columbia.,” said Amy Maisterra, assistant state superintendent for special education, as reported by Bill Turque in the Post yesterday.

"OSSE has hired the American Institutes for Research (AIR) to study the quality of special education programs in the District, an $800,000 project it hopes will identify best practices that can be replicated and brought to scale in public and public charter schools." (You can read the rest of the article here: 'Conversation' on Special Ed.)

Turque is right to raise the question, 'why do we need an outside organization to tell us what we already know?' But, furthermore, this kind of treatment and marginalization of an already marginalized community is nothing new, but it should be an outrage!

Let's face it, most of the students receiving special education services in the District are black and possibly poor. In fact, 28% of Anacostia's 900 plus students qualify for special education ( Why then is an outside group coming in and telling everybody what to do? Why not ask the parents? Or the teachers? Great (unheralded) work is being done among the special ed community by the teachers there, why not ask them? Why not ask the students themselves? "Normal," intellectually developed peolpe don't like being bossed around, so why do we do the same to those that are "less" intellectually developed? As an aside, let us imagine if autism was the norm, where would that place "normal" people?

Why is such a highly vulnerable community being used in a political game, and who is behind this? Indeed, does anyone seem to care?

Some words on Chairman Brown's push to penalize uninvolved parents


Two days ago, Lisa Gartner of the Examiner wrote, "D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown is planning to introduce legislation that would force low-income parents receiving financial assistance from the city to attend their children's parent-teacher conferences and PTA meetings.

Brown's bill aims to increase parents' involvement in their children's education, a step he and other city leaders say is necessary to reap the promised benefits of school reforms, by cutting all federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program benefits to families who miss parent-teacher conferences or more than two PTA meetings without a doctor's note or other documented excuse.

Parents of charter-school students would not only lose their TANF benefits, but also the right to send their children to charter schools."

The rest can be read by following this link: Brown moves to penalize uninvolved parents.

On surface level, it can be believed that the Chairman wants to involve parents and families in a meaningful way. What isn't beneficial about that? But, the question must be asked, why low-income families? To many, it would seem that Mr. Brown is trying to alleviate the curse of the low-performing schools where parents are uninvolved, and if this were the case, it would be a very noble effort.

However, did Mr. Brown actually go to parents who qualified for TANF and actually ask them what they need and/or want in order to be more involved in their  child's (children's) education? Or is this simply a new mandate that the poorest of the poor have to fulfill? 

Let us imagine that we were a single mother of 4, on TANF, would we really have time to go to PTA meetings and then walk home in the dark in a neighborhood that we are not always comfortable venturing out in day light? Or perhaps we would find the PTA unrelated and filled with broken promises and not consider it worth the time? Perhaps there are other events, such as tutoring programs, church, or sports events? Being a single parent makes being in multiple places at the same time extremely difficult. And those that are should be applauded!

But let us say that there are two parents, shouldn't they have more time? Sure. But, if they are on TANF  doesn't that mean that they are working very low-paying jobs or are unemployed? Perhaps, then, they are having inner struggles and while working to better their families lives they do not have time other items.

Now, this is of course hypothetical, but it is an attempt to understand why it is that low-income parents do not have the best attendance rates. It may be true that some cheat the system, but that should not be enough to apply stereotypical assumptions (i.e. poor parents are uninvolved in and do not care about their children's education) to those who do not get paid $100,000 + a year and drive luxury SUV's.

We have attempted to understand. We hope the Chairman does the same.

*BREAKING* DC VOICE to co-host radio show


WPWC 1480 AM Launch Pilot Radio Program-The Education Town Hall- Takes to the Air,
11 a.m., Thursday, February 2, 2012

Washington, DC - Washington's progressive working class radio station, 1480 AM, announced today that its first pilot radio program-The Education Town Hall- will go live at 11a.m., Thursday, February 2, featuring local education advocates, Thomas Byrd and Jeff Smith of DC VOICE, as regular hosts of the weekly hour long series that sheds light on pressing education issues facing the District's students and families. The pilot will also feature monthly co-hosts from the Washington Section of the National Council of Negro Women, Inc., The Columbia Heights Shaw Family Collaborative and the DC VOICE Youth Chapter. Focusing on all aspects of education reform, the program offers vital information to parents, students, school officials, community leaders, policy makers and concern citizens about getting involved in our youth's learning.

"It is a tremendous idea to have an education radio show," affirmed Deputy Mayor for Education, De'Shawn Wright. "We need to continue to have a conversation to give folks an opportunity to give feedback."

The Education Town Hall will inform and enlighten audiences with a provocative discussion on how proposed and existing strategies for transforming the current condition of public education in the District of Columbia. The Education Town Hall will launch principally as a talk radio show with a limited number of newsbreaks, interviews and special features. Listeners will have the opportunity to participate in the discussion via phone, Facebook or Twitter.

Thursday mornings with The Education Town Hall will begin with a week in review, which offers commentary on the latest issues and political news that affects D.C. education reform.  Local and national guests will engage in discussions while sharing with the listeners their views on specific aspects of education reform.

More about Thomas K. Byrd:

Thomas Byrd believes that advocating for quality education is not an act only limited to policy makers, non-profit organizations, parents and those in the education field. Education is the great equalizer among all distinctions in society, especially for people of color, and the entire community, even those like himself without children, should be engaged in education reform.

For three years, Byrd professionally served as the Ward 8 Parent Empowerment Specialist for the District of Columbia Parent Information Resource Center (DCPIRC) that is administered by the Multicultural Community Service and funded by a U.S. Department of Education Grant. There he helped schools to implement successful and effective parental involvement policies, programs, and activities that lead to improvements in student academic achievement.  Byrd has also participated as a discussion group member for both Mayor Fenty and Mayor Gray's education transition teams. Prior to that, he, along with other education advocates, was a member of an advisory group to former Superintendent Dr. Janey.

For many years Byrd has been a volunteer team leader and facilitator for DC VOICE.   DC VOICE addresses the interconnectedness of social and educational issues through broad-based community engagement.

More about Jeff Smith:

Jeff Smith is the Executive Director of DC VOICE, an independent non-profit based in Washington, DC.  DC VOICE was founded in 1999 by activists, teachers, parents and educational decision makers following the Federal takeover of the District of Columbia government and public school system which resulted in substantial leadership instability and spiraling academic performance. Since then, DC VOICE has produced reports on various areas of DC Public Schools and has organized the public for an annual community audit of school preparedness, which is now in its seventh year.

Smith received a Law Degree from Howard University School of Law and is a product of the District of Columbia Public School System.   He is a veteran of the United States Military and a former elected member of the District of Columbia Board of Education. Smith lives in the District of Columbia with his 5 year-old daughter, Andaiye.

Media Contact: Thomas K. Byrd, (240) 375-370


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