Should parents know how well their children’s teachers score on effectiveness scales?
Using its federal Race to the Top grant, Georgia will start grading teachers in part on how much “value” they have added to a student’s learning, based on progress reflected in test scores.
“For teacher effectiveness measure, 50 percent will be based on the academic growth of students,” said Erin Hames, chief of staff at the Georgia Department of Education and the coordinator of the state’s Race to the Top efforts.
But while parents will be able get the average teacher effectiveness scores for a school, they will not be privy to individual job ratings, says Hames.
At a meeting with Atlanta Journal-Constitution education reporters and editors last week, Hames; Brad Bryant, state school superintendent; Martha Reichrath, deputy state superintendent for standards, instruction and assessment; and Bob Swiggum, DOE chief information officer, presented an update on the reforms that Georgia will fund with its $400 million Race to the Top grant.
Twelve applicants, including Georgia, won grants this year. A key criterion to winning was adoption of policies to measure the effectiveness of individual teachers and leaders. But it is also the most controversial aspect of Race to the Top, the $4.35 billion federal incentive program designed to spur innovation by awarding grants to the states with the most progressive and well-developed plans to improve k-12 education.
Teacher evaluations that hinge on student test scores are so controversial that they are often kept confidential. The Los Angeles Times sparked a national uproar this summer when it used the California Public Records Act to obtain elementary school test data and then analyzed how effective teachers were at improving their students’ performance on standardized tests in math and reading.
The Times created a searchable database that allows parents to obtain information on specific teachers, setting off teacher protests in the streets and a furious debate on the fairness of releasing teacher ratings.
In justifying its analysis, the Times said in a statement, “The Los Angeles Unified School District has had the underlying data in hand for years but has not used them to inform parents — or teachers themselves — about how instructors are doing. The Times made the decision to release the information because it bears on the performance of public employees who provide an important service, and in the belief that parents and the public have a right to judge it for themselves.”
Urging his 40,000 outraged union members to boycott the Times, A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said: “You’re leading people in a dangerous direction, making it seem like you can judge the quality of a teacher by … a test.”
A similar battle is under way in New York where the teachers union is challenging the decision by the New York public schools to release ratings for nearly 12,000 teachers based on student test scores.
New York uses a nuanced rating system that categorizes teachers “high,” “above average,” “average,” “below average” or “low” based on how their students fared on the state tests compared to other students with similar demographic characteristics.
The teachers union argues that the data is flawed and that the resulting negative labels and trumpeted news stories — “The 100 worst teachers in the Big Apple” — could haunt teachers forever.
In a Manhattan courtroom this month, United Federation of Teachers attorney Charles G. Moerdler told the judge: “The information has no critical basis other than to facilitate a libel. … Just because it’s a number, it doesn’t mean it’s suddenly objective.”
\But the attorney for media organizations who support a public airing of the data said New York’s open records law mandates release of the teacher information. In addition, the attorney said teachers work for the taxpayers of New York who deserve to know the quality of service they are getting for their money.
“People who are doing work at taxpayer expense recognize they have a diminished expectation of privacy with respect to their jobs” said attorney David Schulz in court.
Hames said that the DOE intends to use effectiveness data to help improve classroom instruction by identifying which teachers need help and in what areas.
Now, parents in Georgia receive little formal information about how teachers perform, relying on word of mouth to scope out the best teachers.
The Georgia DOE doesn’t intend to delve into the debate over whether parents deserve to see individual teacher data, says Hames, explaining that it will fall to the General Assembly to decide whether individual teacher ratings should be released to the public.
– By Maureen Downey for the AJC Get Schooled blog