Thursday I received a call from the New York Post, asking me if I was interested in writing about the teacher data reports whose scores looked to be on the verge of release. I’ve written a fair amount about my tormented relationship with my own teacher data report. In light of the battle over the release of the city’s teacher data reports, the Post was looking for a teacher to come out in favor of publishing the scores. In spite of my feelings toward the Post and its parent company, News Corp., in general, I was excited for a chance to share my perspective with a larger audience.
Unfortunately, the Post’s word count constraints meant a large part of my argument was left out in favor of a stronger pro-release column. I understand the newspaper’s need to support its stance as simply as possible, but I want to use the space here to clarify my views and hopefully add some of the nuance that the Post wasn’t interested in.
The truth is, I am in favor of releasing the scores, including my own “average” rating. But not without a serious effort by everyone involved to explain the flaws and shortcomings inherent in them. I believe parents and the public have a right to know how teachers are being rated.
The public should also know that the scores are based on a formula that produces wide variability. The margin of error for some scores was as high as 35 percent! So a teacher who belonged in the top quintile may have ended up in the third quintile, and vice versa. If scores are released, the city or the media have a responsibility to give limitations like this prominent coverage.
Ultimately, the UFT’s decision to fight the release isn’t unreasonable, but it seems like a losing battle, and one that once again puts the union and the teachers it’s seeking to protect in an unfavorable light. I worry that the UFT is going to do more damage than good, and is missing an opportunity to control the conversation over the data reports and teacher effectiveness in general.
The main reason I favor the release of the scores is because of the conversation I hope it will spark. Recently, the discussion surrounding effective teaching has centered on student test scores. I hope (perhaps naively) that by looking at the limits of the teacher data reports, we can also talk honestly about the limits of test scores in general to judge teacher effectiveness and student performance.
The truth is, effective teaching is about much more than helping students score well on state tests. The best teachers I know act as role models and inspirations for their students. They teach their students how to respect one another, take pride in themselves, love learning, constantly question and search for answers. The teacher data reports will never be able to quantify this impact. If we’re going to honestly discuss effective teaching we can start by recognizing this fact.