Joseph G. Joyner
Superintendent of Schools
St Johns County, FL
Dear Editor and Teachers:
As many of you are aware, The Florida Times-Union filed suit against the Florida Department of Education requesting the release of individual teacher’s Value-Added Model (VAM) scores. The school district views VAM data as part of a teacher’s performance evaluation, and thus, not public information for a year. Unfortunately, the First District Court of Appeals for the State of Florida has ruled in favor of the Times-Union and the data has been released today.
I feel compelled to express my personal feelings regarding this issue. These are my views and my views alone. My support for the work of teachers is unwavering and it is important that you know how I feel.
I cannot express enough, my disappointment in the decision to publish VAM data, in any form. The push to create simplicity (test scores) out of an inherently complex process (teaching) is rooted, in my opinion, in the desire of media and policy makers to create lists with the ultimate goal of allowing for judgment In the end, we continue to treat teachers like sheep, being herded into a gate to have a number pinned to their ear. I question this treatment of professionals as we owe the success of our state and nation to great teachers, and the lack of respect and loss of dignity is appalling.
It is important to understand that the problem is not the VAM data itself, but rather the inappropriate use of it. The VAM growth measurement is the best attempt to fairly and accurately measure the growth of a child I have seen in my career. It is, however, in the beginning stages of use. While the practice holds much promise, it is wrong to assume VAM alone is the single determinant in a teacher’s performance. However, I disagree with those who call the data “deeply flawed.” We have worked closely with teachers for three years to create a climate of trust during this transformational change. Sadly, partial and inappropriate use of a single element erodes that trust
The creation of lists/judgments of teachers by VAM data is inherently wrong in several areas. VAM was never created as the sole tool for evaluating the quality of a classroom teacher, and names or lists of teachers will, without question, lead to inaccurate assumptions. The confusion created by these natural assumptions made by parents and the general public will create chaos in scheduling and teacher assignments. Students are assigned to teachers based on what the principal believes will be the best chance of success for that child…not VAM scores.
The identification of a teacher’s VAM score comes dangerously close to identifying individual children and their scores, particularly in small classes. During the debate over Common Core curriculum, I recall the public concern over the potential release of individually identifiable data and the need to protect that data. However, there seems to be no such concern in protecting this data regarding teachers. It is a very small step to identifying the children based on their teacher.
Identifying a teacher, and judging the quality of that teacher based solely on a single piece of data is not only inappropriate, it is inherently unfair. In my opinion, publicly judging teachers on this number alone strips the individual dignity of a teacher and is no better than judging them on their race, hair color, income or religion.
I am concerned that only 56% of teachers in St. Johns County have FCAT VAM data released by the state. This means that 44% of our teachers are not included in this state provided data, so any conclusions are at best incomplete.
Almost everyone has a friend or family member in the teaching profession. How will they feel when they see their loved one at the bottom of the list? How many good teachers will quit when they see their name at the bottom of the list? This practice violates the very nature of respect and dignity. Also, is the bottom of the list in St. Johns comparable to the bottom of the list in other counties?
The desire for simplicity in the face of complexity is born out of an unwillingness to truly understand what great teaching entails, and an unquenchable desire to judge. In my 36 years of watching the work of teachers, I am convinced that successful teaching is grounded in love. No evaluation system will ever be able to quantify this most vital component. I am fortunate in that I see it every day, and yes, I know what good teaching looks like.
While it is painful for me to watch the systematic dismantling of a teachers worth, in the end it will not matter how the public chooses to judge us. The children will remember us…not for the number pinned on them, but for how we made them feel, how we encouraged them to grow, and how we loved them. Our search for that elusive test score will never fulfill our duty to our children, and I pray that adults realize this before it’s too late.
My respect for your work is immense, and I ask you to continue to trust in our support of your work in the classroom during this difficult time in our profession. You continue to have my greatest admiration, and I will continue to speak out on behalf of the monumental work that you are doing.