The Drama of Teacher Ratings: From a Suicide to Lawsuits

The Drama of Teacher Ratings: From a Suicide to Lawsuits
The reform in education has prompted a movement to rate teachers, which has generated its fair share of support and criticism. Learn about the controversy, lawsuits, and even a tragic suicide stemming from publicly released teacher ratings.
The debate over teacher evaluations has been raging for some time, with discussion over how to rate teachers in very different communities with very different student demographics by the same basic criteria. One solution that has been effectively used across the country is value-added analysis, which pits teacher performance against specific expectations for students. While many agree that value-added analysis the best system to accurately gauge teacher performance today, another conflict has been brewing – whether to make these evaluations accessible to the general public.
What is Value-Added Analysis?
According to an article at National Public Radio, value-added analysis is "a method for calculating teacher effectiveness based on how the teacher's students perform on standardized tests." Instead of strictly looking at the scores, however, these evaluations take into consideration the expectations for the students based on 30 factors, including the students' ethnicity and whether they are poor enough to qualify for a free lunch. This methodology more accurately compares the performance of teachers who teach to different populations of students.
In addition to value-added analysis, most teachers are also evaluated by a "soft" criterion, which tends to be more subjective in nature. This might include observations of the classroom by the principal or evaluations of student papers and projects. The data compiled on teacher through these evaluations has been historically kept private by the school district and used strictly by administrators for developing classroom strategies and managing a teacher's personal career track. However, that changed when the Los Angeles Time published teacher ratings this year.
Publication and Suicide Linked?
The Los Angeles Times went public with teacher ratings in the California school district, publishing the value-added analysis for 6,000 teachers. Each teacher received a ranking for English, math and overall teaching. The publication of the rankings sparked outrage among teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District, according to a report in the Huffington Post. The teacher's union even protested in front of the Times offices and called for a boycott of the paper.
One Los Angeles teacher, Rigoberto Rueles Jr., received a less-than-stellar ranking in the Times report. While his English scores were "average," his math and overall scores were "less effective." According to colleagues, Rueles, who had been a devoted teacher and mentor to his students, became despondent after the rankings were published. The 39-year-old teacher allegedly took his life a few short weeks later, and many attributed his death to the published ratings. However, the actual motive for Rueles' suicide is not clear.
Lawsuits Pending in New York
After the Times publication, other media outlets came forward to request similar information from their school districts. Citing the Freedom of Information Law, news organizations in New York want to publish similar data on the 12,000 teachers who work in New York City. However, WNYC reports that the teacher's union in New York filed a lawsuit to seek an injunction against the release of such information. The union states that the United Federation of Teachers has an agreement with the former deputy chancellor of the district not to turn the names of the teachers over to the media.
Another argument against the release of such documents is that the methodology used for the evaluations is fundamentally flawed. Although the data takes numerous factors into consideration when evaluating teacher performance, the tool cannot account for every possible variable that could affect student test scores. In addition, the union cites errors within the data, such as citing co-teachers in classrooms where there was only one teacher and rating teachers who did not teach math or English.
The New York Department of Education is standing behind its methodology and states that they must turn over the information because specific media outlets have requested it. Each of these media sources have also filed their own briefs to argue against the injunction requested by the union. The case is currently tied up in the courts, as a judge ponders a ruling over whether to allow the publication of such material. At this time, no one knows what the final outcome will be.
While no one argues the fact that teacher performance should be evaluated on some level, how it should be done and whether the results should be made public are matters of serious debate and controversy. At this time, value-added analysis appears to be the best methodology available, particularly when it is used in conjunction with other types of analysis. Whether the general public should be privy to the information is another subject altogether, which may ultimately be left up to the court system to decide.
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