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Teachers Unions Miffed at L.A. Times

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The L.A. Times is publishing a series that attempts to link specific teachers performance to elementary students test scores--and local teachers unions got so mad they called for a boycott of the paper.

The Times's initial story gave some specific examples of students thriving under one teacher in the same school and stagnating under another, and explained how they did their analysis:

The Times obtained seven years of math and English test scores from the Los Angeles Unified School District and used the information to estimate the effectiveness of L.A. teachers -- something the district could do but has not.The Times used a statistical approach known as value-added analysis, which rates teachers based on their students' progress on standardized tests from year to year. Each student's performance is compared with his or her own in past years, which largely controls for outside influences often blamed for academic failure: poverty, prior learning and other factors.

A.J. Duffy, chief of Teachers United L.A., called for a boycott of the paper, upset that the Times discovered:

After a single year with teachers who ranked in the top 10% in effectiveness, students scored an average of 17 percentile points higher in English and 25 points higher in math than students whose teachers ranked in the bottom 10%. Students often backslid significantly in the classrooms of ineffective teachers, and thousands of students in the study had two or more ineffective teachers in a row.

Federal education secretary Arne Duncan had no problem with the public release of all that teacher-specific data. California's education chief Bonnie Reiss is also OK with it. However, national American Federation of Teachers union leader Randi Weingarten thinks only teachers, principles, and sometimes individual parents--not the public at large--should see such data.

The Times is allowing teachers whose information they are making public to publicly comment on the matter. A Times graphic explaining how the "value added" calculations work, and a defensive self-Q-and-A about why the upset teachers union has no legitimate position that the Times should not have used and published the teacher data, including these points:

No achievement test is perfect, and many produce raw scores that reflect socioeconomic background more than classroom learning. But because value-added compares students to themselves in previous years, rather than to other students with different backgrounds, it overcomes one of the major flaws with current uses of raw achievement scores.What if a student has a bad year due to behavioral problems or difficulties at home? Would the teacher's score suffer? Probably not. The Times only developed scores for teachers who had taught 60 or more students, so no single student's test scores should dramatically change a teacher's ranking. Why did you decide to publish teacher's scores? Teachers are the single most important school-related factor in a child's education, but until now, parents had little objective information about instructors' effectiveness. Los Angeles Unified has had the data to estimate teacher effectiveness for years but has not done so.

Is the Times' action, as Duffy believes, "an irresponsible, offensive intrusion into [teachers'] professional life that will do nothing to improve student learning" or a valuable tool for parents? Luckily, the Times has given us the chance to decide that for themselves.

Past City of Angles blogging on United Teachers L.A.

The image associated with this post was taken by Flickr user Alossix. It was used under user Creative Commons license.

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