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Teachers: Strong Reactions To LA Times' Value Added Story

image from www.latimes.com Lots of back and forth over the past 48 hours since the publication of the LA Times' eye-opening Hechinger-funded story about variations in kids' test scores based on what teacher they have -- and naming them publicly.

“The best teachers were not concentrated in schools in the most affluent neighborhoods, nor were the weakest instructors bunched in poor areas...The quality of instruction typically varied far more within a school than between schools."

Larry Ferlazzo calls it a cheap shot.  The UTLA has similar concerns.  Whitney Tilson called it the best thing since sliced bread (see email excerpt below).

From Tilson:  "Trust me: stop what you’re doing and read this article that will run on the front page of tomorrow’s LA Times.  I have no doubt that it will be among the most important and influential education-related articles of the year. This is breakthrough journalism: the Times obtained math and English “scores for the academic years 2002-03 through 2008-09 from LAUSD under the California Public Records Act. Included were 1.5 million scores from 603,500 students. Students' names were not included, but their teachers' names were.”  The Times then hired “a senior economist and education researcher at Rand Corp. to conduct a "value-added" analysis of the data” and is now publishing the data, including in the near future (I hope you’re sitting down) “the performance of more than 6,000 third- through fifth-grade teachers for whom reliable data were available.”  In other words, parents (and anyone else) will be able to see which teachers are most and least effective. Once the most and least effective teachers were identified, the reporters were actually able to sit in on their classrooms, observe what was going on, and then get the teachers’ reactions when they were shown the data about their effectiveness (or lack thereof).I have never heard of anything like this."


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The press can write what it wants. The school system, however, should not have allowed reporters access in order to write a story that names name. And that betrayal of trust gets to the heart of the issue, the lack of good faith and respect which is necessary when dealing with such flawed data. So, like the commenter wrote, what does that say about furture negotiations on evaluations? RttT funds must not go to any district who would repeat such an ethical lapse. Duncan should annouce that the LAUSD is now disqualified.

In looking through the California Public Records Act, I don't see how the LAUSD could have withheld this information from the LA Times. If it's information generated by a public agency--which test scores are--then it has to be handed over, except in very limited cases. One of those cases is if it's confidential information from a personnel file, but the UTLA has fought hard to keep test results OUT of teacher personnel files, so there would not have been grounds to withhold on that basis. It's a very interesting situation.

Breakthrough journalism? I guess it is to those not remotely involved with the education world or those who don't personally know a teacher.

Presumably school would have to hand over the data. I'm assuming that. But allowing them access to classroom interactions, for visits where they can tringulate numbers, names, schools, details of (apparently) classes in order to monitor so much of employees, that was wrong. That was a betrayal of faith. Worst, to blindside teachers with this information is wrong. What guarentee is there that the paper will properly interpret that flawed data? How will they place the story in contexts? To invite reporters into schools wthout protections for individuals from ambush journalism. It will be paid for in lack of trust. I know there will be "reformers" who say that treating people this way is good, and parents should have the same info. That just shows how far we would have to go to devise methods of sharing info, informed by common decency, before we should go down this path. As in "do unto others ..."

utla is calling for a boycott

Union leader calls on L.A. teachers to boycott Times

A.J. Duffy objects to the paper's analysis of the effectiveness of more than 6,000 elementary school teachers.

The Los Angeles teachers union president said Sunday he was organizing a "massive boycott" of The Times after the newspaper began publishing a series of articles that uses student test scores to estimate the effectiveness of district teachers.

I had the same reaction, John. I'm very curious about the conditions under which the reporters were allowed inside these classrooms. Mind you, I have no objections at all to reporters inside the classroom, but transparency is a two-way street. Did the teachers like the ones pictured above know they were about to be featured as among the "worst" teachers?

It's hard to imagine that the LA Times story will help rally teachers to the cause of performance pay.

Using names without at all understaning value added modeling and its limitations is criminally stupid. I don't expect anyone to read this whole paper, but at least read the summary:
Basically, year over year VAM's are highly flawed and cannot, in their present forms, represent teacher efficacy, let alone predict it. In fact, the previous year's teacher has a stronger correlation with present achievement than does the present teacher.

Look, this holds great potential and I'd hate to see it scrapped without further investigation, but its time has not yet come. I had a principal call the math teacher to her office to help her figure out what percentage of the school was (enter ethnicity herre). She couldn't do it. We can't have tweedle dee and tweedle dumber using highly inferential statistical modeling to make staffing decisions.

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