Our guest blogger is Theodora Chang, an Education Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Last week, New York courts handed down decisions that further complicated the already muddy mess that is teacher evaluations. The challenges of choosing weights for student performance results and increasing transparency around teacher effectiveness have turned into distractions from the real challenges regarding implementing evaluations.
In 2010, the New York State Board of Regents, which sets state education policy, broadly interpreted existing state law to allow student performance results on state standardized tests to count towards up to 40 percent of a teacher’s performance evaluation. However, on Wednesday, a state Supreme Court judge ruled in favor of a stricter interpretation that limits the weight of student tests scores to 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.
The Board of Regents and the State Department of Education plan to appeal the decision, a move that appears unwise. While there is broad agreement that teacher effectiveness should be evaluated, there is not yet a strong body of research that shows exactly how much student scores should factor in to these evaluations. It’s downright wasteful to spend scarce resources quibbling over specific percentages.
On Thursday, a state appellate court ordered that the New York City Department of Education must release names and rankings of teachers based on value-added estimates of their effectiveness, derived using statistical methods from their students’ test scores. The appellate court panel decided that this information is “of compelling interest to the public” and is not subject to personal privacy exemptions under law.
This decision takes the ideal of transparency several steps too far. It is important for parents and communities to have information on the quality of their local schools, and New York City has already made significant strides toward transparency with their school report cards. However, this ruling misses the important point that value-added estimates cannot support high-stakes decisions about teachers on their own. They can be rolled up into school-level indicators of teacher effectiveness that should appear on school report cards, but disclosing individual teacher-level rankings by name does not further transparency or accountability.
Instead of honing in on the most controversial aspects of teacher evaluation, officials should focus on the tough work of implementation. As one of the winners of the Race to the Top competition, New York has significant opportunities and funds to be a change agent. It correctly recognizes that evaluating teachers is an important process that has been largely neglected for far too long. However, it needs to realize that evaluation is also a complicated process where perhaps the greatest potential for change lies in actually using performance evaluation to improve classroom instruction, and not as a bargaining chip in debates.