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by Maisie McAdoo | March 8, 2012 New York Teacher issue
Teachers reacted with dismay and anger when they returned to school on Monday, Feb. 27, after the release of deeply flawed Teacher Data Reports that ranked them against their colleagues based on student test scores.
“They feel the city has done nothing but try to bash them,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew told reporters in front of PS 321 in Park Slope, where he stopped by to support returning staff. “These reports were never meant to be used this way. The mayor has done a great disservice to school communities, students and teachers.”
Doreen Crinigan, a 5th-grade teacher at PS 48 in Brooklyn, spoke for many when she said her report was mostly confusing. She was ranked on one subject that she didn’t teach, she said, and on the other she was ranked below average in one room and high in another for the exact same year, same subject and same grade.
Salvatore Barcia, a 5th-grade teacher at PS 69 in Bay Ridge, said whether they were rated well or poorly, teachers at his school were generally “disgusted and angry.”
He said, “There’s very low morale right now. You do so much, and even if they were reliable, these scores do nothing to reflect that.”
Barcia said his scores ranged widely across the three different years that he was rated and his three-year ranking was unrelated to any of the annual numbers.
Teachers’ data report scores at PS 321 ranged across the spectrum, as they did in most schools, with a fair share of low rankings. But Mulgrew noted that the school is one of the most sought-after elementary schools in Brooklyn. “Parents want their children to go here,” he said.
PS 321’s longtime principal, Elizabeth Phillips, vowed to ignore the scores, but teachers were still upset.
“Everybody is devastated because the emphasis is on the tests,” said Deidre Corcoran, who teaches 5th grade at the school. Corcoran was one of the teachers who got a score based on a year she was on maternity leave, an error that the DOE quietly erased before the release of the reports.
“It shows the DOE has no idea how to manage schools,” agreed Ronda Matthews, a colleague who also teaches 5th grade. “I just feel like the city doesn’t understand what we’re doing.”
The reports, which use an opaque “value-added” formula, had little educational impact, but the political fallout was substantial.
Mulgrew said teachers felt betrayed by the mayor. “They told me that he doesn’t want anyone thinking about what his education legacy is because it’s in shambles,” Mulgrew told reporters. “The DOE could have stopped this program.”
In fact, it did, but not to spare teachers. The program was discontinued in September by Chancellor Dennis Walcott on the grounds that the state is developing its own tool to measure student growth on its annual tests. Walcott also tried to distance himself from the reports, acknowledging that they were prone to errors and were never intended to be made public or used in isolation.
But in the lawsuit that the UFT brought to prevent their release, the DOE sided with the news media in arguing that the public was entitled to the information, no matter how flawed. Indeed, according to an investigative report in the Columbia Journalism Review, the DOE press office under Chancellor Joel Klein encouraged reporters to file Freedom of Information Law requests for the individualized reports and responded to the requests “with uncharacteristic speed.”
Many parents sided with the teachers, saying they weren’t even going to look up the scores of their children’s instructors.
“I wouldn’t even think of looking at them,” said Jennifer Henry, a parent who was bringing her two children to PS 321, when asked about the teacher scores.
“This is not going to help anyone improve,” said Jinnie Spiegler, a parent heading to nearby PS 39 with a child in tow. “I don’t even want to honor this by looking at it.”
Mulgrew observed: “Parents are gathering around the teachers, which is a wonderful thing. I think they know where this is coming from.”