Coming Soon to a Classroom Near You?

Some rambling thoughts on a fascinating set of articles about measuring teaching.

Today’s NYT carried two stories — on on page 1 — about new techniques being used to evaluate K-12 teachers.  The news in the stories concerns two things: existence of a very large program for measuring educational effectiveness in schools and the central role of video-taping teachers teaching in that program.

Local readers’ radar might ponder the resonance between programs like this and higher education assessment and higher education “learning and teaching centers” and the individuals and organizations who live off, rather than for, education.

The first story (“Teacher Ratings Get New Look, Pushed by a Rich Watcher“) highlights Bill Gates’ (via the Gates Foundation) interest in a gigantic project measuring the “value added” by teachers through multi-mode assessment. Among other tools : videos of instruction that are scored by experts.

“Interesting” is the fact that one of the movers and shakers in the project is none other than Educational Testing Services. And so this represents yet another opportunity for that organization to live off, rather than for, education in the U.S. Other contractors are mentioned in the story too — as has been true of the assessment movement more generally, a big part of the driving force seems to be entrepreneurs who, after persuading you that you need to do something are more than happy to sell you the equipment needed to collect the data and then expertise to evaluate it.

The second article, “Video Eye Aimed at Teachers in 7 School Systems,” describes some 3,000 teachers who are a part of the first phase of this search for new methods to evaluate teachers. Each will have several hours of teaching video-taped and the tapes will be assessed by experts using a number of carefully validated protocols.

The first article, describing the scope of the project, notes that the rating of 24,000 video-taped lessons will come to something like 64,000 hours of video watching. On a full-time basis that represents 32 person years of work. At 180 days/year, that’s about 44 years of teaching.  The article suggests the costs to a school district will be about $1.5 million up front and then $800,000 per year.

I wonder if anyone has assessed the value of the information produced.

In the middle of the report there is a line about how this is a step forward because rather than having the principal observe once or twice during the year, outside experts (using scientific protocols) can observe up to a half dozen times.  This suggests an interesting phenomenon: in the name of standardization and objectivity, we deskill and depersonalize (among other things).

In one paper on value added modeling (VAM), by an ETS staff person (Braun 2004, 17), one finds this argument: (1) quantitative evaluation of teaching is here to stay; (2) evaluation of gains is preferable to just measuring year-end performance; (3) we have to think what would get used if not this; (4) therefore, use VAM even if it has real limitations. Another, by a Michigan State University economist concludes (about VAM):

We are looking at the educational system through a poor quality lens. The real world is probably more orderly than it appears from the analyses of noisy data (Reckase 2004, 7).


Amrein-Beardsley, Audrey. 2008. “Methodological Concerns About the Education Value-Added Assessment System.Educational Researcher, Vol. 37, No. 2, pp. 65–75


Rand Corporation. 2007. “The Promise and Peril of Using Value-Added Modeling to Measure Teacher Effectiveness

Reckase, Mark D. 2004. “Measurement Issues Associated with Value-added Methods

Wikipedia. “Value Added Modeling

Author: Dan Ryan

I'm currently an Academic Program Director at I've been a professor at University of Toronto, University of Southern California, and Mills College teaching things like human centered design, computational thinking, modeling for policy sciences, and social theory. I'm driven by the desire to figure out how to teach twice as many twice as well twice as easily.

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