Saturday, February 25, 2012
NYC's release of teacher ratings could lead to disclosure statewide
New York City’s release Friday of ratings for 18,000 public-school teachers may set the stage for the eventual release of ratings for all teachers in the state, a scenario that would surely heighten parental interest in suburban class assignments.
Under a new statewide system for evaluating teachers, some districts will award grades on a 100-point scale to teachers as soon as the end of this school year. It is increasingly looking like school districts will have to release the grades if faced with a public request under the state Freedom of Information law.
“Absolutely, it’s going to happen,” said Bryan Burrell, executive director of the Rockland County School Boards Association. “The FOI law says that if a rating is quantifiable, if there is an objective number like a 74 or 92, then it is FOI-able. Yes, teachers will have their grades out there. If a teacher has a 75, will parents want their kids in the teacher’s class?”
The New York City schools released teacher ratings and rankings Friday related only to the progress made by their students on standardized tests. The ratings were based on a complicated formula designed to measure how much “value” a teacher adds to his or her students’ performance.
The city began providing this information to schools in 2007-08. In 2010, more than a dozen media outlets filed a request under the FOI law to have the ratings released. The United Federation of Teachers — the main teachers union in New York City — sued to stop the release, but the state Court of Appeals refused Feb. 14 to hear an appeal.
Jay Worona, general counsel to the New York State School Boards Association, said Friday that he thinks teacher ratings under the new statewide system will become public at some point.
“The magical question is that since it’s the same law involved, the Freedom of Information law, why would the result be any different statewide?” he said. “If it’s perfectly acceptable and/or required for the information to be released in New York City, and doing so is not in violation of state law, why would it be more problematic outside of the city?”
The New York City court case was consistent with past rulings that final performance ratings for public employees must be made public, as opposed to subjective, written evaluations, said Robert Freeman of the state Committee on Open Government.
“We public employees, in so many instances, have been found by the courts to enjoy less privacy than others,” he said. “In response to an FOI request, a final teacher performance rating is public.”
Under the new statewide evaluation system, teachers will be graded on a 100-point scale and given one of four overall ratings: highly effective (91-100), effective (75-90), developing (65-74) and ineffective (0-64). Grades will be based 60 percent on classroom observations, 20 percent on how students progress on state tests and 20 percent on how students perform on locally chosen assessments.
This year, only math and English teachers in grades four to eight who work in districts with fairly new teacher contracts are subject to the evaluation system. But all other teachers will be phased in over the next few years.
New York State United Teachers, the state’s largest teachers union, could not be reached for comment Friday. NYSUT supports the new evaluation system, but a spokesman said last summer that it would oppose making ratings public.
A growing movement of school administrators across New York is publicly opposing the new evaluation system, largely because of its emphasis on student test scores and precise ratings for teachers. As of Feb. 20, 1,359 principals had signed an open letter questioning the system. And groups of principals from Rockland, southern Westchester and northern Westchester/Putnam have fashioned their own statements.
Cheryl Champ, principal of Lakeland High School and leader of the northern Westchester/Putnam group, said she agreed with a column written this week by Microsoft founder Bill Gates in which he wrote that making ratings public would be “shaming poorly performing teachers.”
“There is a lot of fear around the numbers becoming public,” she said. “It will open a can of worms with parents fighting over teachers with the highest scores. But if we have two classes to fill, we can’t put 60 kids in one teacher’s class.”
Andrew Rotherham, a veteran education analyst based in Virginia who writes the popular blog Eduwonk.com, said that public ratings would level the playing field for parents who aren’t plugged in on the best and worst teachers. And districts might have to address community desires when making personnel decisions.
“Would it help create more incentives to address personnel if you had this sort of pressure?” he said.
The state Education Department has contracted with the American Institutes for Research to develop a teacher rating system based on student progress on test scores. After state tests in grades four to eight are administered this spring, AIR is scheduled to provide teacher ratings on a 20-point scale to school districts by June.
It’s unclear whether the state will make any of that information public itself.
“We are still deciding how to handle that information,” state Education Department spokesman Jonathan Burman said.
The ratings based on test results will then be folded into the overall teacher evaluations produced by districts for teachers being evaluated this year.