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Answer Sheet
Posted at 11:29 AM ET, 11/20/2011

L.A. schools won’t release teachers’ evaluation scores

The Los Angeles Unified School District is refusing to give the Los Angeles Times the names of thousands of teachers and “value-added” scores that have been calculated from the test scores of their students, the newspaper reported.

The district, the second largest in the country, is doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.

The Lost Angeles Times in 2010, and then again this year, published a databank showing these scores — which it independently calculated from information it received from the district — that supposedly tell how effective teachers are in educating students.

Value-added scores aren’t reliable enough to show effectiveness, assessment experts have repeatedly warned, but that hasn’t stopped a growing number of states from adopting teacher evaluation systems that incorporate these scores. Scores of principals in New York have taken a public stand against this form of educator evaluation.

The district wants to include these scores in a new educator evaluation system and came up with its own value-added scores for about 14,000 teachers this fall. The L.A. Times wanted to publish them, but this Times’ story reports that district officials agreed to give the newspaper the scores without the teachers’ names attached.

It quotes a letter from district general counsel David Holmquist as saying: “The potential harm to privacy interests from disclosure outweighs the public interest in disclosure.” Further, the Times reported, Holmquist said publication of the scores could lead to jealousy among teachers and complicate efforts to fire teachers. And officials are worried that parents will start insisting that principals place their children in the classrooms of teachers with the highest scores.

When the Times first published the value-added scores, it said that it had addressed all of the complexities that go into measuring teacher performance.

But there are so many questions attached to the value-added system — including that the tests used to base the calculations are not designed for this purpose and that it may be impossible to take into account all of the outside-of-school factors that affect how a student does on a single test — that it is unfair for any system to use them. There are ways to fairly and effectively evaluate teachers without the use of questionable test scores.

That is why the district shouldn’t release the scores to the Times, and, in fact, why they should stop spending time and money to calculate the scores in the first place.

The Times article said the newspaper is still in talks with the district over the scores. We’ll see if the district stands firm on its decision.

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By  |  11:29 AM ET, 11/20/2011

 
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