On Sunday, The Times made public a database that assigned “value added” ratings to some 6,000 Los Angeles Unified School District teachers. Rankings from “least effective” to “most effective” were assigned to teachers based on an analysis of whether they consistently raised or lowered their students’ scores on standardized tests. Teachers were allowed to review their scores in advance and post comments if they wished to. Some were outraged at the idea of publicly releasing the data. Others welcomed the feedback. And still others questioned how a single measure could provide accurate information about a teacher’s competency, and worried that teachers would become much more test-focused in their teaching. We have excerpted some teachers’ comments below. Their full comments and those of other teachers can be found on our searchable database at projects.latimes.com/value-added
Irma Estrada, Gledhill Street Elementary
Teachers need information, tools and support. Targeting them by name in a newspaper is degrading and disrespectful to a population of educators who put a lot of heart and soul (not to mention time and money) into a job that is not properly compensated, and presents a whole slew of challenges that go beyond scores on a test.
Benjamin Nnanna Ofoha, Harrison Street Elementary
I think The Times has done an excellent job here and should be commended. Teachers need to know how well they are meeting their students’ academic needs year after year. Those teachers whose students are not performing well need to know and seek help to modify their teaching strategies, and those teachers whose students are doing well need to know that too. The district should use these data to help all teachers improve their teaching methods.
Helen Steinmetz, Carthy Center Elementary
I fear that the emphasis on test scores will encourage more teaching to the test instead of the much more important skills such as critical thinking in both math and language arts.
It will encourage a quantity over quality approach to teaching that adds no value whatsoever to student achievement.
This data would have been put to better use if it were not made public. It demeans our profession and the teachers who try their utmost to do a difficult job. What scores don’t tell is the complete story of what goes into making an effective teacher, and it is so much more than a score on a test.
William Matthew Covely, Langdon Avenue Elementary
The motive of The Times is laudable. No one can be satisfied with the present state of public schools, especially in big-city districts like LAUSD where the high school dropout rate is close to 50% at many schools. At my elementary school, three-fourths of the students can’t read at the appropriate grade level. For the most part, the yearly state tests are fair and comprehensive. But what I think The Times has done in this large and complex debate, essentially, is jump the gun on the value-added theory, and has, in the process, unjustly damaged the reputation of thousands.
According to a study just released (July 2010) by the U.S. Department of Education, “Error Rates in Measuring Teacher and School Performance Based on Student Test Score Gains,” about 90% of the determinants of standardized test scores are beyond the control of classroom teachers (what the study called “student-level” factors).
Further, researchers found that value-added models of evaluating teachers, such as the one The Times is using, are currently “unstable” predictors of future individual teacher performance. The Times no doubt knew of these bothersome facts, or should have, prior to deciding to publish.
Joan Fowles Lavery, Wilbur Avenue Elementary
This type of evaluation will lead to teachers teaching to a test. As we know, students who take preparatory (practice tests) for SAT and college entrance exams do better than students who do not. If test scores will be used to evaluate teachers, then teachers will work on test-taking skills and the limited content on standardized tests rather than teaching the child. It will improve test scores, but will it prepare our students for the real world?
It would be nice if The Times worked for ways to raise revenues for our schools instead of trying to tear teachers down and break our spirits.
Melanie Podley, Ranchito Avenue Elementary
I wish I’d had access to this type of data my very first year of teaching. We give students scores to let them know how they rank and where they need to improve. Maybe it’s time teachers are given the same. I can’t wait for future articles from The Times analyzing what may separate me, an “average” teacher, from an extremely effective one. It’s sad that teachers have had to wait for information like this from a newspaper, rather than getting it from our district much sooner.
Richard Glenn Shimizu, 156th Street Elementary
Value-added scores can be a valuable component in evaluating a teacher’s effectiveness, but they should not be used as the sole measure.
Here are just a few reasons why: For one thing, standardized tests cover only two subjects — mathematics and English language arts. Second, the value-added method totally ignores the number of students in a given teacher’s classroom. Of course, a teacher with 35 students will have a much more difficult time increasing student test scores than a teacher with only 20 students. The value-added method also does not recognize that many teachers “team teach” with one or more other teachers in the same grade level. Teacher A might teach language arts to all of the students in a grade level, while Teacher B might teach math. Using the value-added method, Teacher A’s students’ standardized math test scores would not reflect his or her teaching effectiveness, but instead, Teacher B’s. Also, if there is even one highly disruptive student in a given classroom, it can affect every student’s ability to learn and, thus, his or her standardized test scores.
Do I feel that the value-added method of assessing teacher effectiveness is totally useless? Of course not. However, there are a great many other factors on which to judge teacher effectiveness. If The Times publishes these value-added teacher ratings, parents and the public will unfairly judge many great teachers as “ineffective.”
Jennifer Lynn Samelson, Cowan Avenue Elementary
I have so much to say, I am having trouble saying anything. Now that’s a first.
Shalonda Elaine Proctor, Crescent Heights Elementary
I am a much better teacher today than I was 20 years ago. I am fortunate I had a chance to grow and develop as an educator before The Times published a website with a rating of my performance. I do think we need to maintain high standards for educators. I applaud any effort to improve our educational system. I believe we need a fair and expedient process for terminating teachers who are clearly ineffective. Since the basis of the added-value ratings is test scores, you should provide the public with more information about the test and the state standards.
Justin Albert Ezzi, Park Western Place Elementary
Yes, teachers should be held accountable for children’s education, but more importantly (and you probably won’t print this because it’s politically incorrect,) PARENTS need to also be held accountable! I’d love to see a “value-added measure of performance” for parents.
Gavino Santiago Bisarra, Madison Elementary
I am a veteran of the Persian Gulf War and currently an Army Reservist. I mention this because I have been a teacher, employed by the LAUSD since 2001, but I have only spent seven years in the classroom due to military mobilizations. I started as a first-grade teacher until my first mobilization in 2003. In 2005, I returned to the classroom when my mobilization ended as a fourth-grade teacher. Just as I was gaining momentum, I was mobilized again. So my teaching career has been impacted by my military service, but there is no room for that data in your statistics.
I will ultimately use this experience to better myself as a teacher, but I feel your publication has crossed the line by naming individuals in this manner. I suppose my naivete has gotten me again for I expected more from The Times than this sensationalized piece constructed obviously to titillate. Ironically, I have used your paper in my classroom by incorporating it into my social studies and writing curriculum. I will rethink this practice.
Cynthia Michell Cramer, Vintage Math/Science/Technology Magnet
LAUSD’s policy in regards to letting go of teachers has been based only on seniority. Maybe now they will look at this data and change their ways!
Jessica Olivia Stewart, Hillcrest Drive Elementary
I appreciate this data. My question now is given all the issues that my students come to school with, how do I become a teacher that is most effective? I think that it is a good idea that The Times is looking at this data, but what about the other data? And now that we have this data, what do we do with it? I understand how many think The Times is targeting teachers. I ask The Times, help us teachers and the district become better.
Ashley Collett Tanger, Tulsa Street Elementary
The real truth is that I get evaluated by more than 30 people every day I teach. I get evaluated on whether or not I listen to them when they tell me things that they have never told anyone else. I get evaluated when I see in a child’s eyes that they do not understand and I need to come up with three other ways to present a concept to them. I get evaluated when I have to break up a fight or mend a friendship. I get evaluated when I stay after school to help kids with homework whose parents can’t or, worse, won’t. I get evaluated when former students come back to visit me and recall specific lessons they did five years ago. I get evaluated when a student struggles and finally succeeds with a smile. According to your research, the only data that matters to my evaluation is the four days out of the year my students are tested, when in reality I see every day as an evaluation, and I sure hope in my students eyes that I pass as being something more than “average.”
Janelle Renee Mault, Wilbur Avenue Elementary
I work at a high-performing school. Many of my students enter my classroom with scores already at the proficient and advanced level. It is not uncommon for some to have perfect scores of 600. Should these students maintain these scores, I would be considered an average teacher because the student did not improve. If a student misses even one or two questions (dropping to 580 or 560), I would be considered to be doing a poor job. This seems unreasonable.
I welcome the notion of meaningful evaluation for teachers and other educators. Reform certainly is in order, but this notion is flawed — it gives too much weight to test scores with little regard to other factors.
Jocelyn Lodroni Abuyen, 107th Avenue Elementary
There are many factors that impact students’ academic performance. Teacher quality and effective instruction are two underlying factors. My school has had 13 different assistant principals within the past seven years. Student transiency rate is high. I don’t believe that publishing a teacher’s effectiveness in comparison to other teachers in the district is fair and meaningful. By doing this, you are influencing teachers to cheat on the state standardized test.
Jennifer Lynn Moreno-Rojas, Lillian Street Elementary
The sad thing is that even though some teachers like myself score more effective than average, it doesn’t mean much to school districts or to the state of California. I have proven to be an effective teacher, but I also am one of the many quality teachers who have been laid off in California.