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Friday, February 24, 2012

Teacher Ratings Discredited By The UFT - Too Late

With Teacher Ratings Set to Be Released, Union Opens Campaign to Discredit Them

February 23, 2012
The New York City Education Department will release the ratings of thousands of teachers on Friday, ending a nearly year-and-a-half-long legal battle by the teachers’ union to keep the names confidential.
The ratings, known as Teacher Data Reports, grade nearly 18,000 of the city’s 75,000 public school teachers based on how much progress their students have made on standardized tests. The city developed these so-called value-added ratings five years ago in a pilot program to improve instruction and has factored them into yearly teacher evaluations and tenure decisions.
Even before their release, the ratings have been assailed by independent experts, school administrators and teachers who say there are large margins of error — because they are based on small amounts of data, the test scores themselves were determined by the state to have been inflated, and there were factual errors or omissions, among other problems.
The union, the United Federation of Teachers, is responding to the release with a $100,000-plus newspaper advertising campaign starting on Friday. With the headline “This Is No Way to Rate a Teacher,” the advertisements will feature an open letter from the union president, Michael Mulgrew, that displays a complex mathematical formula followed by a checklist of reasons why the ratings are problematic.
“The Department of Education should be ashamed of itself,” Mr. Mulgrew said Thursday. “It has combined bad tests, a flawed formula and incorrect data to mislead tens of thousands of parents about their children’s teachers.”
The ratings — covering the school years 2007-8, 2008-9 and 2009-10 — were calculated for nearly 18,000 fourth- through eighth-grade teachers of English or math, or both, though some teachers were not rated in all three years. Charter school teachers were not included.
The city has defended the ratings, saying they give administrators a more objective look at teacher performance, so that teachers who do well can be emulated and those who do not get assistance, or if they do not have tenure, can be fired.
In a letter to teachers and principals on Thursday, the schools chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott, tried to calm their fears.
“The reports gave teachers and principals one useful perspective on how well teachers were doing in their most important job: helping students learn,” he said. “However, these reports were never intended to be public or to be used in isolation.”
“Although we can’t control how reporters use this information,” he added, “we will work hard to make sure parents and the public understand how to interpret the Teacher Data Reports.”
The union had sued to stop the reports’ release, arguing that it would violate teachers’ privacy rights and that the reports were exempt from public-disclosure rules because they were subjective and often inaccurate. A judge rejected the argument, ruling that the union had failed to prove that the city’s decision to release the names was “arbitrary and capricious,” the prerequisite for preventing their release under state disclosure laws, and that the information was of general public interest. The union’s appeals were unsuccessful.
The New York Times, one of a number of media organizations that had requested the records, plans to publish the ratings on its education blog, SchoolBook, and has asked teachers to respond online. On Thursday, several posters on SchoolBook called the reports deeply flawed and criticized the city as well as the news media for making them public.
Marie Kallo, a sixth-grade English and social studies teacher at Intermediate School 234 in Brooklyn, said that even though she had received an above-average rating, she was troubled by a significant error in her report: It said she had taught 120 students in 2007-8 when she had actually taught more than 200.
“That makes me question the accuracy of all the data reports,” Ms. Kallo said, adding that she also did not understand how the ratings were calculated. “How is it fair to be judged on information that is not accurate?”
Karen Fine, a third-grade teacher at Public School 134 in Manhattan who previously taught fifth grade, said she and her colleagues believed that the ratings were an unfair and inaccurate measure of a teacher’s performance because they used an unreliable methodology that had been criticized by many respected researchers and statisticians, and because they did not account for factors that could affect students on the day of testing, like being tired, nervous, or scared.
“For many of us who teach in N.Y.C., this has been our life’s calling,” she said. “We are constantly attacked on so many levels for what ails education in our country when we know that it takes a community to help children learn: principals, administrators, parents, lawmakers, and yes, teachers. The responsibility cannot lie solely on us.”