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L.A. Times Releases Teacher Effectiveness Database

Alexandra Tilsley |
August 30, 2010 | 12:36 a.m. PDT

Senior News Editor


Glassell Park Elementary School (Creative Commons)
Glassell Park Elementary School (Creative Commons)
Parents of Los Angeles elementary school children have an extra task on their back-to-school to-do lists this year: looking up their child’s teacher in the Los Angeles Times teacher effectiveness database.

The database, released on Sunday after a series of articles and a whirlwind of controversy, provides a rating for more than 6,000 Los Angeles Unified School District elementary school teachers based on “value-added” calculations.

The value-added method examines a child’s test scores over time, and compares the child’s actual test score results to predicted test results. For example, if a child’s test scores indicate that he is at a third grade reading level in second grade, he might be expected to test at a fourth grade reading level in third grade. If, instead, the child tests at a lower level, the difference is considered value lost, and is a sign of an ineffective teacher. 

The Times and others, including officials in the Obama administration, believe the value-added method is an accurate picture of a teacher’s effectiveness because it does not necessarily mandate that every student should be at the same level, only that a student should make steady progress. When value-added scores are calculated for a large enough group of students, it can eliminate the possibility of environmental influences impacting a score, too. Though some students might have fallen behind because of problems at home or other issues, the Times maintains that the sample of students was large enough that no one child could impact a teacher’s results. 

From the moment the Times announced its intention to release the teacher effectiveness database, there has been heated debate among teachers, education officials and parents.

The president of United Teachers of Los Angeles initially called for a boycott of the Times, in protest of their plans to release the data. But U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said he believes data related to teacher performance should be available to parents. The president of the American Federation of Teachers agreed, but argued that the information should only be available to the teachers, the school and parents whose children are assigned to that teacher. Instead, the information is available on the Times’ website and is searchable by anyone.

Last week, the president of UTLA, A.J. Duffy, said he was willing to reopen negotiations about teacher evaluations, but he maintained his opposition to the value-added database.

In a press release distributed the same day the database was posted to the Times’ website, members of UTLA argue that the value-added method is “too unreliable” and that “it is the height of journalistic irresponsibility to make public these deeply flawed judgments about a teacher’s effectiveness.”

“A teacher’s “effectiveness” cannot be determined simply by a standardized test score,” Duffy said in the press release. “Teachers and students cannot be reduced to a number. The overemphasis on standardized testing is forcing education away from the well-rounded education that parents want for their children – and forcing teachers to teach to the test.”

Some critics, including Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, say the problem is not necessarily in the value-added approach, but in its presentation. Though the data may be a fair representation, they say, it should only be considered in conjunction with other factors, such as how the teacher runs the classroom. These other factors cannot be discerned through the Times’ database.

A briefing by researchers at the Economic Policy Institute draws much the same conclusion. The report, which finds many more problems with the statistics behind the value-added approach than the Times does, concludes, “Although standardized test scores of students are one piece of information for school leaders to use to make judgments about teacher effectiveness, such scores should be only a part of an overall comprehensive evaluation.”


Reach news editor Alexandra Tilsley here.

Follow her on twitter: @atilsley



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