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Union leader says parents should know teachers' ratings

But Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, urges the L.A. Times not to publish a database showing how teachers may have influenced students' standardized test scores.

August 19, 2010|By Mitchell Landsberg, Los Angeles Times

The head of the American Federation of Teachers said Wednesday that she believed parents have a right to know how well their children's teachers are rated on employee evaluations, but strongly disagreed with The Times' decision to publish data showing how individual teachers may have influenced the standardized test scores of students.

Such data should be considered only as part of a well-rounded evaluation of a teacher's performance, Randi Weingarten said, and then should be available only to the teacher, his or her principal, and individual parents. It is wrong, she said, to make such information widely available to the public.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told The Times earlier this week that he supported the public release of information about the effectiveness of individual teachers.

Weingarten spoke to Times' reporters and editors after meeting with leaders of the local teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles. She pleaded with the newspaper not to publish a database with the names of more than 6,000 elementary school teachers ranked by their ability to improve students' scores on standardized tests. The analysis, called value-added, looks at student progress year after year.

Teachers "look at this as a hammer, a sledgehammer, and they're scared about it," she said. "They're schoolteachers; they're private individuals.... They're not public figures. And they just woke up one day and 6,000 names were going to be in the newspaper."

The Times analyzed seven years of math and English scores from Los Angeles Unified School District elementary schools, and determined how the individual teachers may have affected the scores of their students. The analysis looked at how much a student improved — or regressed — in the course of a year in a given teacher's class.

The first article in a series about the subject appeared Sunday. The full database is scheduled to appear later this month, with information on those teachers who taught third through fifth grades in L.A. Unified between the 2002-03 and 2008-09 school years.

So far, more than 1,100 teachers have requested and received copies of their value-added rankings. More than 100 have submitted comments on their rankings that will be published as part of the database.

Nationally, the value-added method has been gaining adherents who believe that it should be one element of a teacher's evaluation. Weingarten touted her organization's work with dozens of other districts to include such data in performance reviews. When done properly, she said, such analysis could be a valuable part of assessing how well a teacher is doing his or her job.

In Los Angeles, teachers union officials have strongly opposed efforts to consider student test scores in teacher evaluations.

The American Federation of Teachers is one of two major national teachers unions, and Weingarten is regarded as an influential leader who has been cautiously open to school reform ideas that some labor leaders have vehemently opposed.

"There's a right way to do evaluation, and we have to keep everybody's feet to the fire," she said.

She added that the system of teacher evaluations had been "broken for years," and needed drastic reform. She said a good system of teacher evaluations would ensure that struggling teachers receive the help they need to improve, but would also make it easier to fire teachers who were unable to change.

Still, she called the method The Times' was using "primitive" and "rudimentary," and said that publishing the test-score data was comparable to the recent broadcast of a misleading excerpt from a videotape of a speech by Shirley Sherrod, a U.S. Department of Agriculture official. Sherrod was forced to resign after the excerpt aired, but was later asked to return to the department when it became clear that the excerpts had not reflected the true nature of her speech.

Weingarten said the Sherrod case was specifically applicable to Third Street Elementary teacher Karen Caruso, a highly regarded teacher who, The Times found, ranked among the bottom 10% of elementary teachers in terms of boosting her students' test scores. Caruso, Weingarten said, "is the most beloved teacher in the school," who is known for helping her students become more critical thinkers and better problem solvers — skills, she implied, that wouldn't necessarily be reflected in standardized test scores.

mitchell.landsberg@latimes.com

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