06/05/2014 04:11 pm ET Updated Aug 05, 2014

Numbers Don't Lie, People Lie with the Numbers

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About five years ago, I asked the head of my children's school how well standardized tests work. He responded with this question: How will you use the results? That will tell you how well the test works. Pretty informative answer.

In April, the American Statistical Association released a study that said VAM - using student test scores to evaluate teachers - is not accurate or reliable. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is among VAM's proponents, so he was challenged to dispute ASA's findings. The thing is, this is not a yes or no, good vs. bad situation.

No one seriously claims (in the credible academic arena at least) that VAM is a measure of teacher impact on student growth. It's a predictive tool only and should be used with its limits in mind. The current dust-up miscasts both what VAM measures and what role it should play in teacher evaluation. If more administrators actually collaborated with teachers in implementing these evaluation systems, administrators would learn how to use each measurement appropriately, and teachers would have new and more useful data points and information to focus on student growth.

Last year, I worked with more than 150 teachers from Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District, Dallas Independent School District, Denver Public Schools, Hillsborough County Public Schools, Memphis City Schools and the New York City Department of Education in a VIVA Idea Exchange on more effective teacher evaluation. They said teachers should be evaluated on their student's success and their effectiveness at developing their students' skills and ability to acquire content knowledge. Multiple measures, including student assessments, should be part of that evaluation. However, they also said student performance data has a more important role in informing teaching practices and helping teachers plan and deliver their lessons than it does in teacher evaluations.

In other words, this is complex stuff. The desire for a "thumbs up" or 'thumbs down" decision is understandable, but it's a red herring. There's nothing wrong with setting measures and using them to evaluate our progress. BUT, when the metric becomes the goal in and of itself, we've all lost. The teachers who put together the Measures of Effective Teaching report get that. That's why they proposed actual solutions all tied to the one, most important goal: doing the most they can to drive student success.