New York City delays plan to release ratings of teachers based on test scores

Controversial D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee will announce her resignation on Wednesday, nearly four years after she was brought in by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty to improve the city's languishing public education system.
By Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 21, 2010; 9:29 PM

A battle that erupted in Los Angeles this summer over the public release of teacher ratings is flaring in New York this week and could become prominent in the debate over school reform efforts nationwide.

On Wednesday, New York City education officials announced plans to provide news organizations ratings on teachers that are derived from calculations on how much year-to-year progress their students make on standardized tests.

But on Thursday, a city education spokeswoman said, officials put that plan on hold for several weeks while a state court considers a teachers union petition to block the release.

At issue is disclosure of records that include the names of thousands of teachers.

"We think the public has a right to the information," city education spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz said. She said the ratings are used in tenure and other personnel decisions. They cover about 12,000 teachers from fourth through eighth grades, she said, a significant portion of the workforce in the nation's largest school system.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement: "I give New York credit for sharing this information with teachers so they can improve and get better. I also think that parents and community members have the right to know how their districts, schools, principals and teachers are doing. It's up to local communities to set the context for these courageous conversations but silence is not an option."

The United Federation of Teachers, which is the New York affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, filed a lawsuit Thursday in state court seeking to block the release.

The union criticized the ratings as "unreliable, often incorrect, subjective analyses dressed up as scientific facts." Ravitz said the city agreed to hold off on releasing the data until a Nov. 24 court hearing.

In August, the Los Angeles Times began publishing a series of articles based on its analysis of test score data linked to 6,000 elementary teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Those stories and a searchable database named individual teachers in the nation's second-largest school district and examined how much - or how little - they raised student test scores over time.

The newspaper's series provoked debate over whether the public interest in release of the information outweighed the privacy concerns of individual teachers and over the merits of "value-added" analysis itself. Many experts say that the tests on which analyses depend vary widely in quality and that numerous factors outside of a teacher's control can make student test scores rise or fall.

For many teachers, said Jeffrey R. Henig, a political scientist at Teachers College, Columbia University, the publication of value-added ratings compounds the perception that their profession is under siege. "They feel they're being portrayed as the problem," Henig said. "They do get bitter."

Still, school systems across the country are devoting more money and effort to analyzing annual test scores as a major tool in their efforts to improve teaching - a movement applauded by President Obama and other federal and state officials. Now the question becomes whether those analyses will be made routinely public or kept confidential.

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, who is leaving her post this month, said this summer that she would consider making public data that show how effective individual teachers are at raising students' test scores.

"It would have to be managed in the right way and . . . given the right context," Rhee told the Times in August.

In the District, value-added data account for half of the annual evaluations for some teachers. The evaluations are a factor in teacher pay and decisions on tenure, promotion and firing. Staff writer Bill Turque contributed to this report.

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