A New York state appeals court ruled Thursday that performance ratings for thousands of teachers can be made public, potentially clearing the way for the largest such data release in the country.
The New York City school system and its teachers union had been fighting in court over the ratings, which are based on a "value-added" analysis that links teachers to their students' standardized test scores. The school system has compiled the scores for several years but has not used them in performance evaluations or publicly released them.
But several media organizations, including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, sued the school system for the scores last August, shortly after the Los Angeles Times released a database of L.A. teacher ratings calculated by the newspaper.
The New York City school system, the nation's largest, was prepared to release the information for about 12,000 teachers in October until the union sued, arguing that the scores were unreliable and could be misleading. A judge sided with the school system in January, but the union appealed.
The appellate court ruled unanimously Thursday that the scores could be valuable and did not invade teachers' privacy, echoing the judge's earlier findings.
"The reports concern information of a type that is of compelling interest to the public, namely, the proficiency of public employees in the performance of their job duties," according to the decision by the four-judge panel.
Officials with the United Federation of Teachers, which represents New York City instructors, said they would ask for an appeal to the state's highest court.
"Parents and teachers need credible, accurate assessments rather than guesswork," said Michael Mulgrew, the union president, in a statement.
Value-added ratings are based on students' standardized test scores. The difference between a student's expected growth and actual performance is the "value" a teacher added or subtracted during the year. Critics say the tests are too unreliable to be used in high-stakes decisions, while supporters say they bring a measure of objectivity to evaluations.
A city schools spokeswoman said the ratings would not be released until the union's request for an appeal was heard. New York City education officials had previously stressed that the teacher's value-added ratings were only one part of their evaluations.
Many media outlets that have requested New York City teacher ratings have said they plan to publish them if they believe they are reliable.
The move comes as states and school districts across the nation are trying to improve teachers' evaluations, which often consist of short classroom visits by administrators that result in virtually all teachers receiving satisfactory ratings. The Obama administration has been pushing states to change evaluations to include student test scores as one measure of effectiveness.
At the same time, public policy makers are debating how much of a teacher's evaluation should be public. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said he believes the public has a right to know how well educators perform, while others have said that parents, but not the general public, should have access to some parts of a teacher's review.
Officials at the federal Department of Education did not respond to an email for comment on Thursday.
Los Angeles Unified School District officials hired the same consultants who developed New York City's value-added system and began calculating value-added scores after The Times series ran. L.A. Unified, the nation's second largest district, released school scores publicly and teachers' ratings confidentially earlier this year. District officials are also trying to incorporate value-added scores into evaluations and recently began a pilot program to train instructors and administrators in a new evaluation system.
United Teachers Los Angeles officials have said they must agree to any new evaluation system and have been trying to legally block the voluntary program.