The Tennessean newspaper is reporting that lawmakers there are considering legislation to shield teacher performance scores from parents and the press. The state Department of Education had said earlier that a teacher’s final evaluation score would be made public if sought through an open records request that cleared department attorneys.
The question of releasing teacher ratings has come to the forefront after the information was made public in Los Angeles and New York. Georgia will be faced with this decision eventually as it is now testing a new teacher rating system as part of its Race to the Top grant. If deemed to be open records, as they were in New York, the ratings would have to be made public.
A new measure is drawing praise from the state’s largest teachers union and disappointment among some observers. In a time of massive education reform, opponents say, parents and the public should get to see how it’s working.
The vote came as a surprise to many. An amendment to keep teachers’ scores confidential was tacked onto a bill that would have done the same for licensure tests administered by the state Department of Commerce and Insurance.
“We knew nothing about it … no advance warning that it was coming,” said Frank Gibson, public policy director for the Tennessee Press Association. “We have basically a revamped and reformed education model, and to close records that might help the public — particularly help parents of schoolkids find out how well that is working — is tragic.”
Jerry Winters, manager of government relations for the Tennessee Education Association, said lawmakers didn’t know final ratings could be subject to public inspection until media reports debating the issue emerged this month.
The TEA has long known that personnel files, including teachers’ final evaluation scores on a 1-5 scale, would be public record under the evaluation law. The group opposes it because many teachers do not have confidence in the scoring process, Winters said.
“Any evaluation system that puts a numerical rating on an employee — that information ought to be between the employee and the employer,” he said. The releasing of scores also would lead to “teacher-shopping” by parents, he said.
“It would be rather chaotic to have the general public trying to manage a school system by deciding based on some numerical ranking which teachers are good ones and which ones are bad ones,” he said. “That’s why you have elected school boards.”
Earlier this month, the Tennessee Department of Education confirmed a teacher’s final evaluation score would be public if parents or the media asked for it through an open records request and that request cleared department attorneys.
The final score is based in part on learning gains made by the teachers’ students — called value-added scores — and those are legally shielded from the public, but there is no law to withhold the final score.
Los Angeles Unified Schools got the first test of broad access to teacher performance in 2010, when the Los Angeles Times released six years of data on learning gains made by individual teachers’ classes. A parents group there said they didn’t experience widespread teacher shopping. New York City media sued the school district and ultimately received teachers’ names, schools and five years of student learning gains on math and English tests earlier this year. That decision raised the question in Tennessee.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog