Los Angeles' "value-added" teacher evals are easy to use. Maybe too easy.

It’s  there as plain as a Consumer’s Report recommendation to parents. Which teachers’ classrooms should we try to get our kid into? Which should we avoid? Well, moms and dads, just check the chart. In a user-friendly view, every teacher’s effectiveness (as measured by the amount of student growth in his/her classroom, as measurable by state tests) is laid-out in an easy-to-interpret view for the tax-payer. If nothing else, the  LA Times site showcases the value of journalism as info provider for the masses.

Here’s a look at a randomly-selected teacher rated of “average” effectiveness
Notice how quickly and easily it works. Compare her to another teacher, one of the publicly identified (and why not, since public school teachers are public servants?) “least effective” teachers at this randomly selected school:
Yikes! My kid might lose points on the test with Ms. Pfau! What parents would put their kid in that class?

But wait. The “value-added” data could be compromised. To explain her student’s loss of learning, any of the following may be true of Ms Pfau’s classes:

  • The kids in her class may be significantly more learning disabled than a class she competes against; she has no control over the make up of her students and cannot be held to the same standard if her students proportionately have more limitations;
  • The kids in her class may be significantly more impovrished at home than a class she competes against; see argument above
  • The kids in her class may be significantly more rowdy than a class she competes against; see argument above
  • The same kids may not even be in her class at the beginning and the end of the school year–something that happens a lot with urban district’s like LA’s; the tests themselves may not be reliable–have these tests been tested?
  • Ms Pfau may not be getting the support from her Principal and parents that the counterpart she competes against receives

None of this touches on what may be the biggest objection to this evaluating of a teacher’s worth–a “values-added” system is based on the premise that “learning” can be reliably gauged on the basis of multiple-choice math and language arts tests. Everything else learned won’t count. So what about all the possibly excellent things Ms Pfau has taught children about art, or history, or philosophy. None of those is relfected in LA’s value-added tests.

The LA Times is doing something else that’s admirable with its release of the information:  it’s providing space for the teacher to reply and offer his/her response to the publication of his/her data. Ms Pfau hasn’t done so yet. But some have, and it’s just possible that the forum this provides will yield a really useful public conversation that can result in better schools. If you’re rated highly, you can also show your noblesse oblige. Notice how Ms. Azafrani explains her perfect scores:

Heck. I think that even if she did have it easy–with great kids, parents, and administrators–Ms Azafrani  is someone I’d want my kid to have. Her desire cultivate whatever rewards she gets from this accounting back into what will help the schools is the best kind of public spiritedness.
[Blogger’s note: I chose several teachers for examples, but by rating, and by category, and randomly. I know none of them, nor their situations, and mean to disparage nor praise any of them by featuring them on thewikiness.]

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