She added: “The Los Angeles Times ignores the growing number of districts around the country that are building comprehensive development and evaluation systems that inform teaching and learning. We must use good and meaningful data–but the real value of data is to inform instruction. Ironically, most of the teachers cited in the article were surprised to learn of their ranking and couldn’t explain why their particular method of teaching works. That is why we should follow the experts’ recommendation that this data should not be published.”
Comments left at the Times web site revealed a heated debate within the district itself about the newspaper’s actions.
“Although the value-added measure may not be the most effective tool at measuring teacher effectiveness, it is a tool,” wrote one reader. “Many teachers who are upset over these ratings need to read what is value-added; it does not judge the teacher by how many students are at proficient or advanced level, it looks at student improvement–regardless of where they scored. Teachers should be held responsible for teaching and stop pointing out the injustices of the students they had to work with.”
The reader noted that the teacher deemed most effective according to the Times’ analysis was from a low-income school, suggesting that the value-added model doesn’t penalize teachers for the environment in which they teach.
Others were highly critical of the approach.
“Given the complexity of the issue, a public newspaper isn’t the proper forum for this discussion,” a second reader wrote. “Value-added evaluation and, for that matter, standardized testing are very limited indicators. What about personal evaluations? School funding? One-parent families who don’t read to their kids? The [Times] tossed about a bunch of highly limited if not misleading statistics in an inflammatory way to gin up hatred of teacher’s unions. This was the most slanted, sickening thing I’ve seen from a mainstream newspaper.”
Yet another reader wrote: “I think it was wrong to provide this information. My own daughter has taught third, fourth, and fifth grade. She has a huge class size, and she is not provided a teacher’s aide. … I know my daughter has extreme passion for teaching and helping her students do their best, [and yet] she is expected to pay for many supplies out of her own pocket. Next time, LA Times, why not provide the whole picture and not just a fraction of what the facts are?”
The Los Angeles controversy mirrors that experienced in the Houston Independent School District when district leaders earlier this year led an initiative to make the value-added model a formal part of the city’s teacher evaluation system.
Prompted by the Times’ analysis, Education Secretary Arne Duncan last week called on schools across the country to disclose more information about student achievement and teacher effectiveness, saying too much information that would help teachers and parents is being kept out of public view.
Duncan said schools too often aren’t disclosing years of data on student achievement that could not only help parents measure a teacher’s effectiveness, but also would help teachers gain better feedback.
“Too often, our systems keep all of our teachers in the dark about the quality of their own work,” Duncan told an audience in Little Rock, Ark., on Aug. 25. “In other fields, we talk about success constantly, with statistics and other measures to prove it. Why, in education, are we scared to talk about what success looks like?”
Duncan, who was speaking at a lecture hosted by the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service and the Clinton Presidential Library, said he’s not advocating posting the results online, like the Times did–but he noted that some teachers said their districts had never provided them with such data. He said more than 2,000 teachers asked the newspaper for their scores before the full database was published.
“The fact that teachers did not have information like this for all those years is ridiculous,” he said. “Local school districts, in real partnership and collaboration with their teachers, must decide how to share this information, how to put it in context, and how to use it in order to get better.”