Graded: LA Teachers' Public Evaluation Raises Questions

Los Angeles newspaper has published job ratings for 6,000 area teachers.

August 31, 2010, 9:53 AM

Sept. 2, 2010 — -- It is a simple enough concept that has quickly turned into a raging debate: grading teachers based on their students' performance on standardized tests in math and English.

But imagine if it were your performance being evaluated and the subsequent results were then posted on a newspaper's website.

The Los Angeles Times did just that last month, publishing the names of 6,000 teachers of the L.A. Unified School District, along with data showcasing how well their students performed, in an investigative report titled Grading the Teachers.

"I think transparency is a great thing, and I think teachers should also be in favor [of] transparency," parent Patrick Ferry told ABC News.

Just yesterday, members of the Los Angeles school board publicly acknowledged that the current evaluation system did in fact need reworking, with some agreeing that parents should receive more information about their children's teachers. Though formal talks regarding the issue have yet to take place, the group is scheduled to meet today to discuss handlings of such performance evaluations.

The newspaper not only graded teachers based on their students' marks, but took seven years of test scores and tracked how much individual students improved each year under their instructor's supervision. In other words, the paper tried to determine how much value a teacher added to each of his or her students' education.

"Value-added" assessment is a tool now used by hundreds of school districts in 21 states, many of them linking a teacher's pay to improving students' performance. Some districts will then revoke tenure for teachers or even fire those whose students fail to do so.

The Los Angeles school district has apparently had the data for years, although administrators never crunched the numbers for fear of an outcry from the teacher's union. Indeed, the president of one of the biggest teacher's unions told ABC News' Christiane Amanpour Sunday that she is angry about the data appearing on the Times website.

"Let the teachers see it, let them use it," said Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers. "In fact, they are starting to do that in L.A., but don't publish it in this way."

But one of the Times reporters said he stands behind the controversial article.

"I can certainly understand why they'd be angry or frustrated to have their names and their scores published in the newspaper in this way," reporter Jason Song said. "But we weighed the public interest in doing this kind of information and decided it would be best if we released it."

Evaluating Teachers

The Obama administration has welcomed the Times reports, with Education Secretary Arne Duncan calling the publication a public service. Duncan even appeared on "This Week" Sunday to insist that teachers ought to be held accountable for how well their students are doing.

"This should be a piece of how teachers are evaluated, just a piece," Duncan said. "We have to look at multiple measures."

At a speech in Little Rock, Ark., Duncan added that, "The truth is always hard to swallow but it can only make us better, stronger and smarter."

For Zenaida Tan, a third-grade teacher at Morningside Elementary School in the San Fernando Valley, it all makes perfect sense.

"It was a very good feeling," said Tan, who was ranked among the most effective in the district. "But, I didn't really know. I was just there, doing my work."

The report stirred up a different set of emotions for Elizabeth Snyder, a third-grade teacher at Fries Avenue Elementary in Long Beach. The Times analysis rated her "Less Effective" in both math and English.

"I feel bad about being labeled less effective, because I know it's not true," Snyder said.

Other critics of such an approach say it places too much emphasis on test scores, especially because some students perform differently on standardized exams, depending on a number of factors.

But for parents, it seems as though only one thing matters: their children's success.

"I have a lot of teachers in my family, and it would be very shameful to see my mother's name in the paper," parent Marie Meyer said. "On the other hand, if she's not doing her job as a teacher, people need to be aware of it."

Click here to return to the 'World News' page.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events