Sentinels guarding the grail: Value-added measurement and the quest for education reform


  • Rachael Gabriel University of Connecticut, Neag School of Education
  • Jessica Nina Lester Washington State University



value-added measurement, teacher evaluation, discourse analysis, policy making


Over the past three years, Value-Added Measurement (VAM) has captured the attention of the American public through high-profile media representations of the tool and the controversy that surrounds it. In this paper, we build upon investigations of constructions of VAM in the media and present a discourse analysis of the policymaking process within the meetings of Tennessee’s Teacher Evaluation Advisory Committee (TEAC), a 15-member panel appointed by the Tennessee governor to develop a new teacher evaluation policy under Race to the Top. The data included audiorecordings of public meetings from March, 2010 through the end of the committee’s work in April, 2011. As we analyzed the talk of the TEAC, we oriented to the particular version of VAM worked up within these conversations in relation to a descriptive metaphor in which VAM is compared to a “sentinel of trust.” We present examples to illustrate three patterns in the construction of VAM as the sentinel of trust within teacher evaluation: (1) VAM alone defines effectiveness; (2) VAM is the only objective option; and (3) concerns about VAM are minimized. We discuss the implications of this way of thinking and talking about VAM and contrast it with other possibilities, including those constructed by teachers, researchers, and the media.


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Author Biographies

Rachael Gabriel, University of Connecticut, Neag School of Education

Rachael Gabriel is an Assistant Professor of Reading Education at the University of Connecticut. Rachael’s career in education began as a middle school literacy teacher in an urban charter school.  She has since worked as a literacy specialist, pursued a reading specialist certification and a Ph.D. in Education with a focus on literacy studies.  She holds graduate certificates in both quantitative and qualitative research methods in education, and she is a former fellow of the Baker Center for Public Policy.  As a researcher, Rachael has focused on teacher preparation, development and evaluation with a specific interest in related policy and a continued interest in literacy instruction, and disability studies.

Jessica Nina Lester, Washington State University

Jessica Lester is an Assistant Professor at Washington State University. She began her career in education as a middle school math and science teacher. She has since worked as a special educator in the US and Colombia, South America. She holds a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology, with a focus on theoretical and methodological foundations of qualitative methodologies and cultural studies in education. Her main research interests lie at the intersection of culture, psychological constructs as produced in and through discourse (e.g., learning, motivation, emotions, etc.), and education, particularly as related to the education of targeted youth.




How to Cite

Gabriel, R., & Lester, J. N. (2013). Sentinels guarding the grail: Value-added measurement and the quest for education reform. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 21, 9.