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Gates Foundation Not Pleased With VAM Score Release

Kjetil Ree
Wikimedia Commons

One of the biggest national backers of value-added approach to teacher evaluations has spoken out against the recent release of VAM scores in Florida.The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation came out against the Florida Department of Education’s release of individual scores for more than 100,000 public school teachers.

The complex value-added formula assesses teacher effectiveness by measuring the difference between a student's predicted performance on statewide assessments and their actual results.

"The metaphor we can use to somewhat describe these scores is if you imagine planting two seeds for trees on different sides of the river," said Trey Csar, director of research and policy firm Jacksonville Public Education Fund. "We watch them and water them at different levels. The difference in the growth between those two trees is essentially the piece you would attribute the quality of the soil."

The scores represent 40 to 50 percent of teacher's overall evaluation depending on how far back the district's student performance data spans. Other components of the evaluation include principal reviews and student and parent surveys.

The Florida Times-Union had been fighting for release of the teacher data since October 2012. The reluctant release of the individual scores by the Florida Department of Education this week has garnered widespread local and national reaction.

Thursday, the Seattle-based Gates Foundation weighed in with an op-ed published in the Washington Post.

The commentary was penned by the foundation’s College-Readiness Strategy Director Vicki Phillips said there is no evidence to suggest it will lead to improvement in teacher performance.

Friday, Phillips told WJCT it was an issue of respect and fairness.

"You know, we are big advocates of  having teachers be front and center of the conversations around and of the improvements that need to occur, including the improvements in their own practice; and we just think that does far more harm than good to that effort," she said.

In her piece in the Washington Post, Phillips referred to release of the individual scores as "public shaming." 

"It's the same as attaching individual student names," she said Friday. "I don't think we should put those in the paper, either."

Phillips said she did see the value in discussing some of the trends seen in the data, but added that the value-added scores only represent a portion of the teacher's overall performance.

"We've been equally strong advocates about observations of teacher practice and student perception surveys and having multiple measures and multiple looks at a teacher's performance," she said.

The foundation has been heavily involved teacher-related initiatives since 2008. Overall, the foundation has funded nearly $700 million in teacher quality initiatives nationwide, including $104 million in Hillsborough County Public Schools among other Florida districts.

While the organization strongly disagrees with the court ruling in favor of the Times-Union, Phillips says the funding won’t be going anywhere.

"We do not when it gets tough pull our funding and go," she said. "But we do watch things like this very carefully."
Two years ago, Foundation Co-Chair Bill Gates wrote an op-ed a similarly disapproving op-ed in the New York Times, when New York's teacher evaluations were publicly released.

While Tennessee and California have also seen similar battles for the release of value-added scores, both were unsuccessful.

You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.