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New York City spat over publishing teacher rankings reaches brief truce

New York City schools want to give the 'value added' ratings for its teachers to the press. The teacher's union is suing. Friday, the district agreed not to release the data before a Nov. 24 hearing.

By Staff writer / October 21, 2010

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew has criticized the trend toward evaluating teachers based on new 'value added' rankings. Here, he speaks at the UFT's 50th anniversary celebration in March in Manhattan.

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The teachers union in New York City won some time today in its battle against the school district’s plan to give to reporters “value added” evaluation data that ranks teachers against their peers.

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The United Federation of Teachers filed a lawsuit in state supreme court saying that data reports did not qualify as something that needed to be released under the freedom-of-information laws. It argued that the data reports are often unreliable and if released would “cause the public to form unsupported conclusions as to teacher quality” and “irreparably harm the professional reputations of educators.”

The school district had planned to release the reports with teacher names to seven news organizations Friday but agreed today not to do so before a Nov. 24 hearing.

As more school districts around the country begin to link teacher evaluations to their students’ gains on standardized tests, controversies continue to bubble up about what uses of such data are appropriate and fair.

This summer, The Los Angeles Times sparked national debate when it published a series of stories and a database of 6,000 teachers and their rank among their peers based on a value-added analysis by reporters.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has weighed in on such matters saying that parents and the public have a right to know about teachers’ performance.

What are value-added scores?

Value-added scores are meant to show the effect a teacher has on his or her students’ test scores. The methodology attempts to isolate the teacher’s role and make comparisons among teachers by statistically controlling for various factors among their students, such as ethnicity, disabilities, and socioeconomic status.

But because such analyses are relatively new, and there’s no consensus yet on the accuracy, usefulness, or ethics of publicly reporting such data at the individual teacher level.

“There are bad teachers out there, and we have not had any ability as communities to identify them, and this data will help do that,” says Kelly McBride, a senior faculty member focused on media ethics at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla. But the onus is journalists who release such data, she says, to “really do an honest assessment of the flaws [in the data], and then give the audience the information it needs to put the data in the appropriate context.”

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