Monday, September 22, 2014

New York Judge Says “Value-Added” Scores Can Be Released

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By Alain Jehlen

Even if “value-added” scores are unreliable, teachers’ names and their scores can still be released publicly, a New York judge ruled this week.

The United Federation of Teachers, representing New York City’s public school teachers, immediately announced it would appeal the ruling.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew pointed out that the scores “are largely based on discredited state tests, have huge margins of error and are filled with inaccuracies.”

Judge Cynthia Kern called the data “possibly flawed,” but she said “there is no requirement that data be reliable for it to be disclosed.” Even though the numbers may be wrong, she said, they are of interest to students, parents, and the public.

Judge Kern did not actually order the release of the value-added scores, which had been requested by New York news organizations under the state’s Freedom of Information law. Instead, she said the Department of Education was not being “arbitrary and capricious” when it determined that the Freedom of Information law required their release.

The Department of Education had promised the union in writing that the data would be kept private, but then reversed course.

New York is not the first city where media outlets have taken action to publish value-added scores for individual teachers. The Los Angeles Times calculated their own value-added scores based on test scores obtained from the Los Angeles school district, and published them, complete with teacher names, last summer.

But experts on standardized testing have warned against relying on value-added scores for judging teacher effectiveness. The experts say these scores swing wildly from year to year, and, although they look impressively exact, actually tell very little about the “value” that teachers “add” to their students.

Last summer, a panel of 10 of the nation’s leading testing experts, convened by the Economic Policy Institute, warned that relying on these scores will make it harder to close achievement gaps. “Adopting an invalid teacher evaluation system and tying it to rewards and sanctions is likely to lead to inaccurate personnel decisions and to demoralize teachers, causing talented teachers to avoid high-needs students and schools,” these experts said. The 10 authors include four former presidents of the American Educational Research Association and two former presidents of the National Council on Measurement in Education.

Similar warnings came in reports from the National Research Council, the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, and the National Education Policy Center. “Placing excessive emphasis on test scores alone can have unintended and undesirable consequences that undermine the goal of developing an excellent teaching force,” said the National Education Policy Center paper, which went on to describe ways teachers should be evaluated, with multiple measures for the complex array of skills that teaching entails.

Photo: Eva Abreu

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