EDITORIAL IN The Bakersfield Californian
Tuesday, Aug 17 2010 03:51 PM - Does the Los Angeles Times have the right to publish a database of teacher performance scores from the troubled Los Angeles Unified School School District? Of course it does. Will disseminating that data have a positive longterm effect on students' education? That's a more complicated question.
The Times constructed an estimate of the effectiveness of 6,000 elementary-school teachers based on seven years of LAUSD math and English test scores -- a measuring tool the school district might have utilized itself, but thus far has not. The newspaper used a statistical approach that evaluates teachers based on students' achievement on standardized tests over time. Because students are essentially compared to their own past performance, non-academic influences such as poverty and other social factors are rendered somewhat neutral, isolating to a great extent the effectiveness of the teacher.
Does this comparison of test scores account for every other possible variable? No -- a point upon which most teachers will wholeheartedly agree. Of course teachers (and especially teachers' unions) have long opposed rating educators on the basis of classroom test-score performance. Still, The Times' approach may be one of the better models for evaluation we've seen.
What's troubling is the effect such highly publicized ratings might have on families and schools. Families that pay attention to these things will push to get their children into the classrooms of teachers who score well, much as they jostle to get into schools with the best API scores. Meanwhile, teachers will become obsessed with standardized-test preparation even more than they are now, adding further to the stress of an already tension-filled job.
And one of the great inequities of education may very well get worse: The most attentive, hands-on parents will work the system, and the poorer, least engaged ones will bumble along, perhaps never knowing that such tools are at their disposal. Their own fault? In many cases, no doubt. But the result would be an increasingly stratified school system, and that benefits no one.
As is almost always the case, however, the harsh sunlight of exposure can be immensely helpful. If the LAUSD were to make better use of the data available to it -- and any school district, anywhere, ought to be able to similarly crunch the numbers -- they'd be in much better shape. Test score results should be a fundamental component of every teacher's internal review, so long as they're weighed with other factors as part of an ongoing program to improve teaching performance.