Education Reform

Laura H. Chapman: Why SLOs Are Even Worse Than VAM

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Education has always been buried in jargon, and today’s reforms have made the pile of jargon steeper than before. The Common Core brings us “close reading” (reading with background or context). The demand for test-based evaluation of teachers brought us VAM (value-added-modeling or value-added-measurement), and also SLO (student learning objectives). In this comment on the blog, Laura Chapman says there is even less evidence for the validity of SLOs than for VAM.


Chapman writes:


I appreciate Audrey Amrein Beardsley’ great work on the VAM problem, now at the threshold of becoming a major component of evaluation for teacher education programs.


Even so, equal attention needs to be given to the use of SLOs for evaluating teacher education in so-called untested and non-tested subjects.


It has been estimated that about 65-69% of teachers have job assignments for which there are not state-wide tests. SLOs (and variants) are the proxy of choice for VAM. An SLO is a writing exercise for teachers required in at least 27 states SLOs must include pretest-posttest and/or baseline to post-test reports on student growth.


Four reports from USDE (2014) show that there is no empirical research to support the use of the SLO process (and associated district-devised tests and cut-off scores) for teacher evaluation.


The template for SLOs originated in Denver in 1999. It has been widely copied and promoted via publications from USDE’s “Reform Support Network,” which operates free of any need for evidence and few constraints other than marketing a deeply flawed product.


SLO templates in wide use have no peer reviewed evidence to support their use for teacher evaluation…not one reliability study, not one study addressing their validity for teacher evaluation.


SLO templates in Ohio and other states are designed to fit the teacher-student data link project (funded by Gates and USDE since 2005). This means that USDE’s proposed evaluations of specific teacher education programs ( e.g., art education at Ohio State University) will be aided by the use of extensive “teacher of record” data routinely gathered by schools and districts, including personnel files that typically require a teacher’s college transcripts, degree earned, certifications, scores on tests for any teacher license and so on.


There are technical questions galore, but a big chunk of the data of interest to the promotors of this latest extension of the Gates/USDE’s rating game are in place.


I have written about the use of SLOs as a proxy for VAM in an unpublished paper titled The Marketing of Student Learning Objectives (SLOs): 1999-2014. A pdf with references can be obtained by request at [email protected]

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