Feature stories

DOE backs off release of Teacher Data Reports in face of UFT lawsuit

UFT President Michael Mulgrew outside New York State Supreme Court after the uni

UFT President Michael Mulgrew outside New York State Supreme Court after the union filed its lawsuit.

The UFT scored an 11th-hour victory on Oct. 21 when the city Department of Education backed off a decision to release test-based data reports on nearly 12,000 teachers, at least until a Nov. 24 court hearing.

The DOE made that commitment before a state judge as the UFT was in court trying to block the release of the individual names.

The DOE had planned to turn over to the media on Oct. 22 the names and highly debatable data on 4th- through 8th-grade English language arts and math teachers, based on their students’ standardized test scores, which themselves were found to be inflated and inaccurate.

Teachers and education experts were incredulous that the DOE was contemplating such a move.

“How dare they?” demanded one chapter leader, echoed by many others, when UFT President Michael Mulgrew warned the Delegate Assembly about the possible release.

A Columbia University researcher, who did some of the original work on the reports, told a reporter that privacy was a major issue and there should be “a careful decision about whether this should be released.”

Aside from privacy concerns, Mulgrew feared that the reports are so inaccurate that they could badly mislead the public. Welcoming the delay, he said, “We’re glad that parents won’t be subjected to more unreliable information from the DOE. Our teachers can now focus on the real task of moving education forward.”

A sample “value-added” algorithm.A sample “value-added” algorithm.

Despite a written promise to the UFT two years ago that the reports “will not and should not be disclosed,” the DOE was readying the reports for four newspapers and New York 1 news, which had requested the information under the Freedom of Information Law.

The reports use a new and complex statistical technique called value-added measurement to try to determine the impact of an individual teacher on a student’s test score. As of now, the measure is “not ready for prime time,” according to researchers. The DOE itself acknowledges that the reports have super-wide margins of error.

When the DOE claimed that its hands were tied by the Freedom of Information Law requests, the UFT was left on its own to block the release and explain, to a public primed by months of teacher-blaming in the media, why the reports are not a good measure of teacher worth.

The UFT has assisted researchers to refine the value-added methodology in hopes that it could someday become a useful instructional tool. It also agreed with the State

Education Department last summer that value-added measures could be one part of teacher evaluation when and if they could be made reliable.

“In order to do that work, you need teachers involved. But you can’t then break your promise to them,” said Mulgrew.

Teachers responded to news of the threatened release with dismay.

“Many people are not going to want to teach 4th through 8th grade. And teachers are not going to want to teach at-risk kids,” said Taneeka Jones, a teacher at PS 42 in District 27.

“You’re holding teachers’ feet to the fire on things they have no control over,” said Denise Johnson, of PS 104 in Far Rockaway.

The UFT is working with Community Education Councils and parent groups to explain exactly how and why the TDRs are not a useful measure of teacher effectiveness and to reassure them that the union’s commitment to working with parents to find real solutions to our schools’ challenges is as strong as ever.

“Parents understand their children are more than a test score,” Mulgrew said. By making education about a single data point, “you’re not really helping children.”

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