Readers of this blog know that I am not a fan of the “value-added method” of evaluating educators. VAM uses student test scores and adds them into complicated formulas that can supposedly figure out the “value” teachers add to student learning. (Can a complicated formula really factor out the post traumatic stress that affects a student’s ability to take a standardized test or the effects of persistent hunger?) Assessment experts have cautioned that the use of VAM for high-stakes evaluation decisions is a bad idea because the results are generally not valid or reliable, but policymakers have gone ahead and required school districts to use them anyway.

Earlier this week I published a post about the release by the Florida Education Department of the “value-added” scores of public school teachers around the state for the last two years. The department didn’t want to release the scores but were forced to when a judge ruled against it in a lawsuit filed by the Florida Times-Union. In that earlier post I wrote that some 70 percent of teachers who were given VAM scores were evaluated on students they didn’t actually have or in subjects they didn’t teach. (Really.) Because VAM formulas require standardized test scores, and because 70 percent of teachers in the state don’t teacher students or subjects for which there are standardized tests, school-wide averages are used to evaluate all teachers.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been a prime supporter of the use of VAM as part of a teacher’s evaluation and has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into developing teacher evaluations that use this method. But the foundation does not support the release of the VAM scores. In this post, Vicky Phillips, who is the K-12 education director, explains why.

By Vicki Phillips

Monday was a difficult day for education in Florida. You may have heard the outcry from teachers and administrators across the state, as a court order forced the Florida Department of Education to make individual teacher evaluation data public.

We at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation oppose the public release of individual teacher information because there is no evidence to suggest it will lead to improvement in teacher performance. It will not attract new intelligent and passionate individuals to the profession, and it will not make our schools more effective.

Teacher performance evaluations can only translate into better schools when they deliver concrete, personalized feedback that helps each individual teacher become more effective. These evaluations should include feedback from a variety of sources, and, perhaps most obviously, these individual evaluations must be kept private. As we’ve seen before, publicizing individual performance data may undermine the very work that could help empower teachers and improve our schools.

In 2012, New York teachers’ evaluation scores were publicly released, and Bill Gates, our Co-Chair, wrote an op-ed in The New York Times expressing his disappointment.

Back in 2012, there were a handful of pioneering districts – including one in Florida –  already benefiting from new evaluation systems that gave teachers in-depth, personalized feedback from a variety of sources. At that point, the feedback on these new evaluations was extremely positive – students, teachers and principals all told us that they had been energized by the new system and had seen a difference in the classroom.

It is unfortunate that the same teachers who just a few years ago were forging a new path forward in our public education system are now being publicly called out, instead of being given the private feedback and support they need to improve. Bill Gates’ words from 2012 still ring true:

“Developing a systematic way to help teachers get better is the most powerful idea in education today. The surest way to weaken it is to twist it into a capricious exercise in public shaming.”

If we want to truly help teachers improve, we must develop evaluation systems that give personalized feedback collated from multiple sources, and we must then give teachers the time, support and resources they need to use that feedback to improve their practice.