Saturday, June 14, 2014

Value-Added Measures and 'Consulting Chicken Entrails' for High-Stakes Decision-Making

“Like the magician who consults a chicken's entrails, many organizational decision makers insist that the facts and figures be examined before a policy decision is made, even though the statistics provide unreliable guides as to what is likely to happen in the future.” Gareth Morgan, Images of Organization: The Executive Edition

Could it be that using Value-added data is the equivalent of consulting “chicken-entrails” before making certain high-stakes decisions? With all the voodoo, wizardry, and hidden computations that educators are just supposed to accept on faith from companies crunching the data, value-added data might as well be “chicken entrails” and the “Wizards of VAM” might as well be high-priests or magicians reading those innards and making declarations of effectiveness and fortune telling. The problem, though, is value-added measures are prone to mistakes, despite those who say “it’s best we have.” Such reasoning itself smells of simply accepting its imperfections. One only need hold their nose, and take the medicine.

What President Obama, Arne Duncan, down through our own North Carolina state education leaders do not get is that Value-added measures simply are not transparent. If anyone reads any of the current literature on these statistical models, you immediately see many, many imperfections. There’s certainly enough errors of concern to argue that VAMs have zero place in making high-stakes decisions.

As the “Wizards of VAM” prepare to do their number crunching and “entrails reading” in North Carolina, we await their prognostications and declarations of “are we effective or ineffective?” Let’s hope it doesn’t smell too bad.

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