“VAM, school effectiveness and the politics of distraction” by Tore Bernt Sorensen

The following extract is taken from EducationInCrisis.net, please visit their website for the full article; originally published on Monday, 29 February 2016. 

A revised version of Tore’s Education International Discussion Paper on “Value-added measurement or modelling (VAM)” – published in April 2016 – can be accessed here.


This discussion paper reviews the policy instrument of value-added measurement or modelling (VAM) and the implications the instrument has for teaching and learning in a global context. VAM is based on the assumption that it is possible to create adequately complex statistical models that capture the essential and universal factors in what makes some schools and teachers more e ective than others without sacri cing the complexity of education, teaching and learning.

VAM is related to some of the dominant trends in education policy globally, and the origins and spread of the policy instrument should be understood within the context of the rise of the school e ectiveness movement in education research, policy and practice. VAM is currently incorporated into market-based teacher accountability systems in a number of countries. While in the US the use of VAM as a policy instrument to evaluate schools and teachers has been taken exceptionally far in the last ve years, most other high-income countries remain cautious towards the use of VAM, as re ected in OECD reports on the policy instrument.

The paper unfolds the debates and critique raised against VAM. After a brief account of the origins, basic ideas and current use of VAM globally, four particular concerns related to VAM are discussed:

1)  a technical critique of the statistical modelling underlying VAM;
2)  a broader critique on the constitutive e ects of VAM on education and its objectives;
3)  the side-lining of teachers in the debate on evaluation of school and teacher performance; and
4)  the promotion of VAM by private enterprises and major development agencies in low- and middle income countries.

On the basis of literature reviews, the paper points out that the promises of VAM are undermined by deep aws in terms of reliability, validity, bias, and fairness. The effects of VAM include biased and unfair assessment of schools, heads and teachers, misdirection of resources, and the provision of misleading information to the public, parents and students. However, politically the reductionism of VAM has proved to have some appeal as a simple solution to x complex realities. Combined with the media’s hunt for headlines and the prospects for market- and pro tmaking that comes with VAM, teacher unions should be aware of the characteristics of the policy instrument. This is of particular importance for education systems in low-income countries. They are likely to be vulnerable in the coming years as a combination of tied assistance from international donors and market development for-pro t enterprises. The endorsement of VAM is being invoked as a means to raise school and teacher quality in spite of the lack of supportive evidence and the extensive critique raised against the instrument.

Continue reading at http://download.ei-ie.org/Docs/WebDepot/2016_EI_VAM_EN_final_Web.pdf


Editor’s Note: Tore Bernt Sorensen is a doctoral candidate (Education) in the Centre for Globalisation, Education & Social Futures, Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol. Tore’s PhD project concerns contemporary trends in the global educational policy field. Focusing on the main political actors involved in OECD’s Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), the project discusses the implications for the teaching profession on a global scale and in selected countries such as Australia, England and Finland. Contact: