letters to the LA Times | 27 Aug 2010 | more - from other dates - follow
Re "L.A.'s leaders in learning," Aug. 22, and "LAUSD presses union on test scores," Aug. 21
The Times made a good case for its statistical methods and analysis, and also made a good case to justify the release of this information to the public.
If I were a good teacher, I would welcome this information. If I were a not-so-good teacher, I would have certain misgivings about having the data published.
I took me a few days but I finally realized where I come down on the issue of publicizing the data: The effectiveness of a given teacher is essentially a personnel matter, and personnel matters are generally kept confidential. So I would urge The Times to resist posting the teacher effectiveness ratings at this time.
I taught in middle and high schools on a full-time basis beginning in 1962 and part time at community college starting in 1975. I retired from both in 2004.
Not long ago, I happened to watch the Indianapolis 500. I admired the cooperation between the driver and the pit crew. I also watched the preparation that went into the race. Delays at the pit stops or mechanical failures were important factors, and many times the experienced and seasoned driver could not compensate for the shortcomings.
What about the educational process? Wouldn't it be great if all parties concerned — parents, students, teachers and administrators — were willing to work hard to provide the best possible educational process? Is it wishful thinking? When some problems occur, should we all try to work it out, or chose the easy way by blaming the driver?
Ertuvan E. Kanatsiz
Thank you so much for your careful, comprehensive series on testing scores and teacher effectiveness. As the parent of two L.A. Unified elementary students, I encourage you to launch a second, similarly intensive look at an equally important area: the chronic underfunding of public education in California.
That, to me, is a question of greater and more urgent significance.
I am sorry that The Times has taken up the cause of evaluating teachers based on improvement in student test scores. I submit that it is a bogus method of measuring teacher performance and will have a destructive influence on education in our classrooms.
Benchmarks of true education include a student learning to read and write well and taking responsibility for his or her own learning. Students need to carve out an area of interest, and have a drive to excel in it. This requires a nurturing and relaxed environment in which students can learn to think for themselves.
I don't see that an emphasis on test results will help achieve these educational goals; rather, it will detract from them.
Before The Times essentially "outs" the teachers, perhaps it should study the "value added" by the thousands of L.A. Unified administrators who never set foot in a classroom yet are paid more than many of the best teachers in the district.
The accuracy of your measurement of teacher quality is arguable. Your dedication to avoiding criticism of the district's administration is not.
Thank you for your excellent series on the use of "value added" analysis of student test scores. The conclusion that the most important factor in a child's education is the teacher is spot on. Unfortunately, it can take years for a student to recover from a poor teacher.
As your article shows, the principal is a crucial element in excellent schools. The leadership at each school is an often-overlooked factor in student achievement. A principal needs to act like any other boss, providing the tools and insisting that employees perform their jobs professionally.
The reaction of some teachers and union officials that value-added analysis might be used to fire teachers puzzles me. Use the information to become a better teacher. Firing any employee, whether in the private sector or at a public school, is a last resort.
I am a retired L.A. Unified teacher, and before retiring, I tried for 10 years to get the STAR test results for my students to see if there was any improvement during the time I taught them.
At the beginning of each school year we were inundated with test data, but I was never able to get specific data on the students I taught the previous year to see how effective I had been. Over time, I developed pre- and post-tests for my students and informally tracked their achievement.
I think the district is moving in the right direction, but it is so slow. Perhaps information will be more accessible to teachers now that your reporting has shed light on the situation.
Teaching is a two-way street, and many students do not want to learn.
Here's an idea: How about publishing all the names of doctors whose patients didn't get better because they wouldn't take their medicine?
I am one of those parents who spent the night outside Wilbur Avenue Elementary School. Factors that brought me to Wilbur were a full-time music teacher, a full-time art teacher, a science lab, an up-to-date computer lab with a teacher, amazing parent involvement, an after-school program with 30 classes to choose from, before-school care for working parents, lots of field trips, guest speakers, a beautiful environment and responsive teachers. None of these factors is reflected in value-added test scores.
At Wilbur, my daughter's test scores have always been advanced. Though test scores are important, they aren't the only measure of a school's worth — otherwise, my kids would be attending Lanai Avenue Elementary, which has a higher API.
I'd spend the night outside again to keep my kids at Wilbur.
Letters from August 26, 2010
Teachers and parents
Re "Parents have the right to know," Column, Aug. 23
Indisputably, we teachers serve the public. Parents have a right — nay, a duty — to know what's going on in the classrooms and on standardized measurements.
But let's not confuse teacher efficacy with test scores. A teacher's real job is to humanize our students through academics, arts, humanities and self-discipline. We steer kids through the myriad horrors of growing up in the
21st century, and inspire them to be lifelong learners
any way we can.
If people want higher test scores, they'll get higher test scores. I just hope they don't complain when that's all they get.
At the outset of his column, George Skelton says that "grading teachers based on how much their students learn should be a no-brainer."
He assumes it's English and math — in quantifiable form, of course. Who decided that? Certainly not the students. That wonderful desire to learn we see in every youngster, and their enjoyment when they do, is slowly denied them by the threat of flunking out. By middle school, many are ready to drop out.
When are we going to allow students to have a say in what they learn, when and how much — if, that is, it's quantifiable?
Skelton has a valid point regarding measuring a teacher's effectiveness by comparing students' grades on standardized tests this year with last year.
Care must be taken, however, that this "accountability factor" does not become the primary factor in measuring a teacher's effectiveness. Student motivation to improve has to come from the student, and is derived primarily from the parents. No teacher can instill that desire without the parents' willingness to work with the kid.
I am not a teacher, but I know and volunteer with many of them. Their often-stated complaint to me is that they cannot get parents interested in their children's education. If mom and dad think a teacher's job is to baby-sit their offspring, that is what they will get.
If you want to use a child's test scores to evaluate a teacher, then that evaluation must show the entire picture of the child to determine accuracy.
I suggest to you a report as follows: To the Parents of Johnny Cal: Your son, who is a first-year English-language learner, in his fifth-grade class of 38 students, including 13 students who speak other languages, with five special-education students (whose assistants were not in class with them), who was absent an average of three days a month, who never turned in any homework, whose parents never came to any school activities, responded to any school notices and may or may not be able to help him with schoolwork, scored in the 50th percentile. Please understand your teacher used a curriculum she did not design but is mandated to use, and followed a pacing plan imposed on her. The testing company was very impressed with his dot-to-dot pattern on the response sheet that resembles a happy face.
Skelton wrote: "Children are being graded. Their teachers should be too."
In the name of fairness, how about grading parents? As a teacher, I observed a world of difference in the success of children who had been taught respect for adults. They took responsibility for their actions in class, knew how to listen and were on time. They became successful students.
Yes, their test scores represented good teaching plus their receptiveness to what was being taught.
There must be new technological "toys" invented to measure successful parenting. Fair judgment demands this.
As a former L.A. Unified teacher who was "in the know," your article was spot on. Parents, students and Socratic-type teachers are not allowed to state baldly that teachers are not equal (gasp!).
The teachers union has a dilemma. The problem rests with trying to protect poor to useless teachers while forgetting the goal of educating most of the students.
We must teach children to read and to think. Learning is up to the children, with boosts from the parents and the community. I once heard a brilliant teacher comment: "I teach; it is the student's job to learn."
Bringing the classroom to life/Letters from Aug 24
Re "The art of teaching," Opinion, Aug. 19
Congratulations to Sue Horton. Her article does an excellent job of emphasizing the importance of creating an enriched learning environment while ensuring that students also master all of the basic skills. Test scores are only part of the picture, but an important part.
As a retired elementary school principal, I was fortunate enough to work with many educators capable of successfully integrating both.
Horton's lovely memories of her fifth-grade teacher reminded me of my own wonderful memories of high school teachers who were both an influence on and an inspiration to me.
However, today's robotic "teaching to the test" curriculum would never allow any of those lovely intangibles such as tea ceremonies or leaf pressing.
Sadly, there's no room for people like Mrs. Gibbs and my high school teachers in today's educational system, which views students as widgets and teachers as factory workers, and there's a big "you're not welcome" sign out to any kind of creativity.
For seven years in the '80s, I served on the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. We often made assessment visits to schools. I recall one high school visit in Southern California where I was assigned to interview the chair of the history department, who turned out to be a real gem, not unlike Horton's Mrs. Gibbs.
Thoroughly impressed with the description of the program and learning that many of the quite innovative activities were his doing, I indicated that my university had a large teacher training program and that I would be grateful if he could identify what he considered to be the greatest deficiency in beginning teachers.
"Easy," he replied. "They don't love their subject."
It's good to be bright, imaginative, organized and funny, but without love, one is sounding brass.
How do you test for that?
David L. Levering
The writer is a professor of history emeritus at Cal Poly Pomona.
Analyzing data about teacher performance in the Los Angeles Unified School District; United Teachers Los Angeles' call for a boycott of The Times
Letters: August 17, 2010
What we can learn
Re "Who's teaching our kids?," Aug. 15
My wife and I are both retired California public school educators. We want to commend The Times for its investigation into the effectiveness of teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District. You have brought much-needed light.
Though our respective careers were far different — my wife taught in elementary grades; I worked in secondary grades — we often had to evaluate ourselves because there was no way to compare our performance with other teachers'. Conceivably, we both might have been in need of great improvement, but we had no way of knowing.
For the sake of today's generation of students and those still ahead, there has to be a better way of judging how good each teacher really is. Your series can only be a help in that direction.
Picture this: You have a career in a respected profession that you have been in for years. Once a year you are tested and compared with your peers. You have no input on the testing process, and the results are unknown to you.
Then, a respected newspaper gets information from your employer about the results of these tests and allows a reporter to interview you about your results — which, unbeknownst to you, are not on par with a fellow employee's. You are now identified in the newspaper as an "ineffective" employee, while your colleague is "effective." Who would want this job?
Free public education is a cornerstone of our democracy. Attacking dedicated teachers who have missed the bar on teaching to standardized tests will only discourage people who are considering teaching as a career. Shame on The Times for publishing this series, and shame on L.A. Unified for sharing its testing information.
I thought it was the job of newspapers to report facts to the public without malice. I don't believe that has been done in this case.
I have been teaching with L.A. Unified since 1985, and have two teaching credentials, a specialist's certificate and a master's degree in education. Yet I am constantly working and evaluating what I do. Most of the teachers I know do the same. Our administrators take the evaluation process seriously.
I have lost respect for this newspaper. The Times has lost me as a subscriber.
As a long-retired teacher, I was aghast to read this piece. Much of the information was good. The problem was The Times listing names of poorly performing teachers and publishing their photographs.
My heart bled for Karen Caruso. It is obvious that she does all in her power to be a good teacher. For her to be called out as an ineffective teacher in The Times will do untold damage to her and the children she teaches. The same is true of John Smith.
I was considered a very good teacher, and I would have been devastated if I had been treated this way.
As I scour my just-released test scores from the past school year, I am struck by the student who shot up 84 points in my eighth-grade honors English class. Oops, I also see a kid who dropped 44 points.
These are two girls, in the same period, the same learning environment, taught the same standards-based curriculum and given the same homework assignments.
Why the discrepancy? Is it me? Am I to be held accountable for such disparity in test scores within the same class?
Looking at each of my classes, I see the same thing. My conclusion? Teenagers are teenagers. They are inexplicable, as are student test scores.
Marina del Rey
The Times must be as qualified to judge good teaching as I am to judge good journalism.
That being said, here's my take on your article: You posit that raising student test scores equals good teaching.
No. Or at the most, maybe.
Raising student test scores equals getting students to raise their scores on a state test. When somebody can prove that high test scores produce good citizens, critical thinkers and productive members of society, then and only then can we say the teachers who taught those kids were "good."
The writer, a teacher at Sun Valley Middle School, was named a 2004-05 LAUSD and L.A. County teacher of the year.
Let's grade the editors, reporters and staffs of major metropolitan newspapers. What was the circulation of your paper when you started? What is it now? Who's responsible for its slide? Oh, not you?
You're saying there are many other factors why some papers are slipping while others are doing better at holding readers? That you can't judge the work of a professional by a single metric, and that to imply otherwise would be misleading at best?
The Times' methodology is sound, but it ignores one fundamental thing: The results make no distinction between teachers who educate and those who "teach to the test."
In today's high-pressure environment, it is practically impossible to do both.
An "educator" who receives children who have been previously taught by a series of "testers" will almost certainly see her English and math scores decline.
Does that mean she is a bad teacher? Does that mean the children are worse off?
My wife used to be an "educator," and she has always been very highly regarded by parents, principals and her peers. She is now forced to become a "tester." Her pupils show the necessary "improvement," but they certainly are losers, as they now lack true education.
Congratulations to The Times for its commitment to focus on the most important issue facing caring citizens: public education.
I am not an expert on education, but it doesn't take an expert to understand that the outrageous dropout rate in our public schools will lead us to second-rank status.
Hopefully your series will be a spur to change.
Union calls for a boycott
Re "Union urges Times boycott," Aug. 16
That United Teachers Los Angeles has called for a boycott of The Times only proves that newspapers are neither obsolete nor irrelevant. Good work!
My wife is an L.A. Unified teacher with more than 20 years of service. She and I had a spirited discussion Sunday morning about the "value added" analysis of teachers undertaken by The Times.
Mere hours later, our phone rang with a pre-recorded message from UTLA President A.J. Duffy urging union members like my wife to respond by canceling their subscriptions to The Times.
Just how this otherwise irresponsible and cowardly call to action will help solve the education crisis that is LAUSD I am uncertain, but I am considering getting a second subscription for myself and my family.
Cheers for your reporting on teacher effectiveness. Boos and hisses to Duffy for his "shoot the messenger" response.
If Duffy has data showing how students benefit from the current seniority system, he should share that data; otherwise, he should pay attention to what The Times has to say. He might learn something.
Even the two "ineffective" teachers you identified in Sunday's article showed more concern for the success of students than Duffy seems to have.
I hope teachers ignore his boycott idea. In case they don't, I'm sending in $100. I hope you can use it to get extra copies of The Times to schools and libraries in the LAUSD area.
Thomas B. Gage