Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s a good idea

While I have been a proponent of using value-added measures to evaluate teachers, I have argued that valued-added scores should be one of multiple measures used to evaluate a teacher’s effectiveness. I am certainly not alone in that argument. I don’t know of any credible researcher or policymaker who believes value-added scores by themselves can accurately reflect a teacher’s performance.

In fact, as our latest report on teacher evaluation systems found, in no state does a single student achievement measure make up more than half a teacher’s evaluation. Policymakers realized that teaching is too complex to rely on a single measure to evaluate teachers, so they designed systems where teachers are evaluated on multiple measures.

Unfortunately, newspapers in Florida and Los Angeles have not come to the same realization. For some reason, newspapers there believe publishing individual teachers’ value-added scores are in the public’s interest.

Just because open record laws give newspapers the power to publish individual teachers’ scores doesn’t mean it’s in the public’s interest. There are a lot of things that are legal but aren’t in the public interest. It’s legal for newspapers to report troop locations but they don’t because it puts our solder’s lives in danger. While releasing teachers’ value-added scores will not lead to such dire consequences, they can inflict undue harm to teachers.

To begin with, publishing individual teachers’ value-added scores does not necessarily provide the public with an accurate portrayal of teacher quality in those schools. Value-added scores are just estimates of a teacher’s impact on their students’ test scores. As with any estimate, there is some error just like there is in political polling. Value-added results should be evaluated over multiple years along with other measures of teacher quality, such as classroom observations and student surveys.

Evaluating teachers on a single measure and making that measure public is irresponsible. Our teachers deserve better and the public deserves better as well. When the public reads these scores in their local newspaper they’re not going to know the limitations of the data they are looking at. Most people don’t know what value-added measures are, nonetheless their limitations.

Rather than publishing the value-added scores of individual teachers, these newspapers should investigate whether teachers are being evaluated accurately and whether the results are being used to improve the performance of all teachers so all students have access to effective teachers. Now that is in the public interest.

 – Jim Hull

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