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The Teacher evaluation debate comes to New Hampshire

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The national debate about the future of American public education – the “education reform” debate that has taken shape over the past 10 years – has two major parts.   One is essentially about privatization of our public school systems – either though for-profit charter schools (unlike those we have in New Hampshire) or by using publicly-funded vouchers to send children to private schools (like our New Hampshire voucher plan).

The other part of the debate is all about how best to hold schools and teachers accountable for educational results.  This often has a corporate tone, as in, “Show me the improved scores or you will be fired (if you’re a teacher) or shut down (if you’re a school).”   In this form, evaluation is not directly concerned with curriculum questions and can become a club to beat on teachers.  At the other end of the spectrum, teacher evaluation can be integrated with curriculum as a tool for coaching teachers and improving schools.

That debate on how teacher performance should be evaluated has arrived in New Hampshire.

First, the New Hampshire Department of Education is about to publish it’s “Model Educator Support and Evaluation System” (as reported on NHPR).  Teacher evaluation is a key part of the department’s application to the U.S. Department of Education asking to waive the requirements of No Child Left Behind.  Our department of education clearly takes the “coaching” approach to evaluation, but it will be important to assess any teacher evaluation legislation proposed this year on that same scale of corporate vs. coaching.

Then, Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst organization gave New Hampshire’s education policies an F grade in its recent report.  Ms. Rhee is clearly an advocate of the corporate approach, as you can see in the Frontline documentary about her.  Although the report is political advocacy, not really a contribution to education policy, it will undoubtedly be used as fodder in the New Hampshire education debate.

And, finally, House Education Committee members Rep Rick Ladd (R, Haverhill) and Rep. Ralph Boehm (R-Litchfield) have submitted a Legislative Services Request to draft a bill “relative to teacher evaluation systems.”  We will track that here when there is something to track.

How should we think about all this?

Although there are many components to teacher evaluation, the heart of the matter is what’s called the “value added modeling,” or VAM.  Our own Scott Marion, of Rye, is a nationally respected practitioner in teacher and student evaluation and VAM.  He works with departments of education across the country, including our own here in New Hampshire.  With some guidance from Scott (but any errors are my own), I’ll do a series of posts to help make VAM and the debate about it accessible to parents and the rest of us.

Value added modeling is a way of analyzing student test scores to attribute a student’s progress to specific teachers.  This is a new discipline, still very much in development.  If it were a drug, it would be in the testing phase, pre-FDA certification.  But it is in use in a number of districts around the country.

The VAM debate is, first, about whether it works at all.  Then, what kinds of tests can effectively be used for this kind of teacher assessment?  Even then, many wonder how reliable can VAM ever be.  And, finally, the most visible part of the debate is over how much weight VAM results should carry in a teacher’s evaluation.  Many knowledgeable practitioners seem to feel that VAM should be limited to 20-25% of a teacher’s total evaluation, with classroom observation, peer review, student feedback and other factors comprising the rest.  But many advocates and school districts, particularly those who subscribe to the corporate style of evaluation, propose evaluation plans that rely on VAM for as much as 50% of the teacher’s evaluation.

If you want to go a step deeper now, here is a good place to start: a 20 page piece by Henry Braun, published by the Educational Testing Service, called “Using Student Progress to Evaluate Teachers: A Primer on Value-Added Models.”  


  1. […] The Teacher evaluation debate comes to New Hampshire […]

  2. Bill some pretty good info. I just wish you had supported teachers at this point. Tying an evaluation to any test is anti-Teacher.

    One more point. I’ve looked at the school choice Legislation passed last year. It’s not a voucher program. THat is very different. I think it would be helpful to readers to make sure you are offering FACTS and INFO that is accurate.

    I hope in the future, you will stand with the teachers against the VAM which is being pushed on states and schools via Bill Gates/ Arne Duncan and Obama.

    Overall I found this article to be informative and appreciate your post. I think it could have been more accurate and I am hoping you will ultimately stand with teachers and oppose these measures the State DOE is facilitating for the US DOE.

    • Bill Duncan says:

      I don’t usually like to post anonymous comments, but do want to put this view out there.

      In this post, I wanted to lay out some groundwork on VAM before getting into issues such as the legitimacy of it, which I will talk about more in the context of the actual “support and evaluation” plan here in New Hampshire. I will say couple of things now, though.

      The New Hampshire model, which is not public yet, relies more on a “Student Growth Model,” rather than a more traditional VAM approach. The model calls for measuring student learning in many ways and using it as a small piece of the total evaluation picture. And it looks as if it will all be done in a localized (in each school district) and participatory way. There is no way this could become one of those teacher-bashing testing environments. As you know, we have a high degree of local control in our school districts and the department of education has taken a consultative approach to developing its model. They talk about it here.

      So. The will be a long discussion. To be continued.


    • Bill Duncan says:

      Also, on the voucher point, I say, if it walks like a duck… The New Hampshire program is tax credit funded vouchers. Here’s a lot more from last year’s debate.


  3. geauxteacher says:

    Bill – I am sending you several analyses completed recently by two Louisiana teachers that expose the VAM design and teacher evaluation system pushed through our legislature to years ago to be illegitimate and ripe for manipulation. While the shenanigans of our current Superintendent of Education John White may or my not be on the agenda of your top policy makers, fact is that his deep association with Stand For Chikdren and Michelle Rhee’s bunch appears to be part and parcel with VAM eval methods being pushed on states. The formula/math is so complex (and the further distorted and manipulated) that the expert “marketing” of this tool to deprofessionlize teachers is somewhat easily sold to unsuspecting legislators. You are welcome to contact the authors of these papers for further discussion. They are most happy to share their expertise in the interest of saving our schools from the destructive privatization agenda.

  4. wgersen says:

    I have several posts in my own blog on the deficiencies of VAM ( and wrote two extended essays to the Commissioner urging the use of something other than VAM based on standardized tests: one in 2009 ( and one in 2011 ( I believe that NH finds itself between a rock and a hard place: if we don’t play by the rules set forth by USDOE in their waiver guidelines they will deny our waiver request and we will end up with 90+% of the schools classified as “failing” based on the old NCLB standards; if NH goes with the USDOE rules they will have to base a higher percentage of the evaluation process on VAM… endorsing the use of unproven VAM measures on a test that hasn’t even gotten out of the alpha stage of development.

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