VAM is not behaviorist.

9 Sep

I generally agree with Dianne Ravitch on most education policy issues. I have consistently pointed out that value added measures (VAM) of teaching are statistically invalid and I have often cited her blog posts on this issue. Thus, I was very disappointed to see her link to a post that characterized VAM measures as “behaviorist.” Here is the offending quotation:

“However, traditional standardized assessments mainly contain questions that are crafted from a behaviorist perspective. The conceptual understanding that is highlighted in the cognitivist perspective and the participation in practices that is highlighted in the situative perspective are not captured on traditional standardized assessments. Thus, the only valid inference that can be made from a value-added estimate is about a teacher’s ability to teach the basic skills and knowledge associated with the behaviorist perspective.”

These words show an appalling lack of familiarity with modern behavioral psychology. Look at any recent text book on behavioral teaching methods, I like Behavior Analysis for Effective Teaching by Julie S. Vargas, and you find critiques of the use of standardized testing. Here is what Vargas writes:

“Educators realize that the goal of education is to prepare students for a future that requires much more than the skills assessed on a test.”

This is from a chapter where Vargas describes techniques for encouraging creativity and curiosity among students.

In later posts I will write about how facile and inaccurate characterizations of behaviorism have denied our teachers access to a set of highly effective classroom techniques.

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