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by Micah Landau | March 8, 2012 New York Teacher issue
That’s the word educator and author Linda Darling-Hammond from Stanford University used to describe the release of the Teacher Data Reports, and she was not alone.
Education experts and local politicians agree: the individual Teacher Data Reports should never have been made public.
Noting that the numbers in the data reports are “extraordinarily error-prone,” Darling-Hammond said, “Anybody who truly understood how meaningless these numbers are could not have asked for their release with any good intent.”
Former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, another of the country’s most prominent education experts, wrote on an Education Week blog that “with such a large margin of error, it’s hard to know how anyone could take these ratings seriously. The precise numbers attached to each teacher’s name are nothing more than junk science.”
Norm Fruchter, a senior scholar at Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform and the founder and past director of New York University’s Institute for Education and Social Policy, said he was “appalled” by the mayor’s action.
In addition to the wide margins of error, Fruchter pointed out that the state has since recalibrated the 4th- and 8th-grade math and English tests on which the ratings are based, casting further doubt on the reports’ reliability.
Even if you could trust the value-added metric and trust the tests themselves, Fruchter said, it is “crazy to rate teacher effectiveness with a one-day, one-shot test score” because of all of the other factors that affect students’ achievement. “The task of the teacher cannot be reduced to a student test score,” he said.
Sean Corcoran, an associate professor of education economics at the NYU institute founded by Fruchter, said that the value-added metric combined with other measures of a teacher’s performance, such as classroom observations or student portfolios, “could be useful” in measuring individual teachers’ effectiveness, but that “alone it provides very little information.”
The scores “should never have been released to the public,” Corcoran said. “They were never intended for that use — and they won’t be helpful for the public to use anyway.”
Local politicians have also rallied to the defense of the city’s teachers.
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio described the mayor’s release of the ratings as a “grave mistake.”
“School communities deserve credible information that reflects how well our kids are learning and helps improve teacher performance — not misleading gimmicks that demean teachers,” de Blasio said.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said effective measures of teacher performance were critical. “But it would be a mistake to think that the DOE’s recently released data reports offer a real way to evaluate anything,” he said. “Any data set with a margin of error of 50 percent has to be regarded as extremely problematic.”
Council Speaker Christine Quinn noted that the data was out of date and that the DOE was no longer even producing these reports. “The release of misleading data that publicly ranks teachers by name won’t help them get better at their jobs or improve our schools,” Quinn said.
Former City Comptroller Bill Thompson said that he believes in accountability and transparency in the educational system, but the release of the data reports doesn’t achieve that goal. “We want parents to be involved, engaged and to provide them with quality information, but getting them bad information does not help anybody,” he said.
Another opponent of the reports’ release, Brooklyn Councilman Stephen Levin pointed out that “students who are already achieving at high levels count against teachers under this rubric because the students don’t show improvement.”