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Teachers blast L.A. Times for releasing effectiveness rankings

The Times made public an analysis of L.A. Unified third- through fifth-grade teachers based on student test scores.

August 30, 2010|By Jason Song, Los Angeles Times

National and local teachers unions sharply criticized The Times on Sunday when the newspaper published a database of about 6,000 third- through fifth-grade city school teachers ranked by their effectiveness in raising student test scores.

"It is the height of journalistic irresponsibility to make public these deeply flawed judgments about a teacher's effectiveness," said a statement issued by United Teachers Los Angeles.

The database is part of a Times series that rated teachers by using a "value-added" analysis based on seven years of standardized test scores obtained from the Los Angeles Unified School District. The value-added method looks at previous student test performance and estimates how much a teacher added to or subtracted from a student's progress.

By late Sunday afternoon, the database had generated more than 230,000 page views, an indication of the interest in the issue because Web traffic tends to be higher during the week.

Since The Times began publishing the series, L.A. Unified has moved swiftly to conduct its own value-added analysis and will give teachers their confidential score by October. The district has said the scores could be used to guide training for struggling teachers.

In addition, the district and the teachers union have agreed to begin negotiations on a new evaluation system. Top district officials have said they want at least 30% of a teacher's review to be based on value-added. But they have said the majority of the evaluations should depend on observations.

Some school districts across the country are doing just that, finding that the approach provides a measure of objectivity for teachers' performance reviews, which are overwhelmingly based on short, prearranged classroom visits by administrators and other subjective measures. Even the staunchest supporters of the value-added approach believe it should be only one part of a teacher's evaluation.

Los Angeles teachers union President A.J. Duffy has long said that teacher evaluations need to be overhauled, but he has been opposed to value-added because it's based on what he considers flawed standardized testing.

A group of education experts writing for the Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute released a study Sunday that was highly critical of the approach but also found that it could be one of multiple measures of a teacher.

"Used with caution, value-added modeling can add useful information to comprehensive analyses of student progress and can help support stronger inferences about the influences of teachers," the group wrote.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, had asked The Times not to publish the database. In an interview Sunday on ABC's "This Week," she criticized the paper for using value-added scores in "isolation."

In a later statement, she said the union is "disturbed that teachers will now be unfairly judged by incomplete data masked as comprehensive evaluations."

Weingarten recently told The Times that she helped negotiate 54 contracts in school districts where value-added counts for up to 30% of a teacher's review. But although she said parents should have the right to know whether their child's teacher received a satisfactory evaluation, she said the public should not have wide access to the scores.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, also interviewed on "This Week," has said he is in favor of giving the public access to teachers' value-added scores and providing more feedback to instructors, who are often left in the dark by administrators. He has decried the fact that many districts have not done more with student test scores.

"The tragedy in L.A. has been [that] teachers ... desperately want this data and they've been denied it," Duncan told host Christiane Amanpour.

"It shouldn't take a newspaper to give them that data."

Several teachers said in e-mail comments they were pleased that The Times had published the database, saying it could spur public debate and give valuable feedback.

"I think that if you are doing the best that you can at your profession, then you should have nothing to hide and your work should be public," wrote Mary Ann Debellefeuille, a fourth-grade teacher last year at Amestoy Elementary.

Many other teachers included in the database lashed out at the newspaper's analysis and its decision to make the information public. Teachers were given an opportunity to review their scores before they were released.

Elizabeth Ellen Snyder, who taught at Fries Avenue Elementary during the 2002-03 through 2008-09 period and was rated "less effective" overall, said in an e-mail: "Guilty as charged. I am proud to be 'less effective' than some of my peers because I chose to teach to the emotional and academic needs of my students. In the future it seems I am being asked to put my public image first .... How sad for all our children."

Others said they would use their scores as motivation.

"It is very sobering to see that you have been ranked one of the least effective teachers," said Monica L. Petit, a third-grade teacher last year at Woodcrest Elementary. "I guess it means that I have more room for improvement."

United Teachers Los Angeles officials warned that making the data public would create mistrust among schools and parents.

"The database will cause chaos at school sites, as parents scramble to get their children into classes taught by teachers labeled as 'effective' by a newspaper," according to the UTLA statement.

"It could also have long-lasting impact on the careers of teachers."

The union has planned a protest in front of the Times building on Sept. 14. "We want to make a public statement about our concern for our members who are being singled out," Duffy said in an interview.

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jason.song@latimes.com

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