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L.A. Times Prints Cheap Shot At Teachers

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The Los Angeles Times today published what I think is an incredibly “cheap shot” at teachers today headlined “Grading The Teachers: Who’s teaching L.A.’s kids?”

The paper collected data from student test scores on teachers in the district, put them in a data base on the newspaper site, and identified the supposed “value-added” increase each teacher provided. The article itself also highlighted — by name and photo — supposedly “effective” and “ineffective” teachers.

The Times could have chosen to write an article examining the complexities inherent in teacher evaluations, looking at what research has identified as useful and accurate. They could have spoken with teachers and others with extensive education experience to identify what are some commonly agreed characteristics of effective teachers. They could have asked teachers what kind of evaluation process has been most helpful to them, or what they think might be most useful (that is the topic of an extensive post I’m concidentally just finishing up today).

And, they could have highlighted the two teachers who they consider “effective” based on test scores, flawed assessments that they might be (see The Best Resources For Learning About Effective Student & Teacher Assessments and The Best Resources For Learning About The “Value-Added” Approach Towards Teacher Evaluation).

But to publicly label countless hardworking teachers as ineffective based on such flawed data really is a cheap shot that is insulting, not to mention demoralizing, to many.

I wonder how the reporters would feel if the Times listed on their website the number of “hits” reporters get on the stories they have written, and publicly labeled the reporters who got the most as their most effective reporters and based hiring, firing, and compensation decisions largely on those statistics?

UPDATE: Here’s a comment from LA teacher Kathie Kienzle Marshall:

“The most disappointing part, Larry, is two-fold:

1) It comes as the district is just initiating a teacher evaluation reform movement that requires trust and buy-in from all teachers, something this article shredded to bits.

2) At least one of the authors of this report was at the LAUSD two-day district convocation on teacher evaluation, where s/he/they SHOULD have gained enough understanding of the complexity of teacher evaluation to have thought long and hard about this “expose”.

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

13 Comments

  1. “The most disappointing part, Larry, is two-fold:

    1) It comes as the district is just initiating a teacher evaluation reform movement that requires trust and buy-in from all teachers, something this article shredded to bits.

    2) At least one of the authors of this report was at the LAUSD two-day district convocation on teacher evaluation, where s/he/they SHOULD have gained enough understanding of the complexity of teacher evaluation to have thought long and hard about this “expose”.

  2. How did they get the info that is specific to the teachers? The public info released by the state just has general info on the schools per grade level but the teacher name isn’t identified. Did LA release the teacher names? Or is there an informant? If they authorized the release of specific names of teachers with their test scores, I hope they have tons of fun paying for extra substitutes while some of the shamed teachers go off on stress sick leave, right when we are all in the middle of a huge budget crisis!!

  3. I’m as opposed as anyone to the extreme emphasis on standardized test results. But like it or not, that’s the game we’re playing. And some teachers are better at the game than others. And parents have no clue as to who those teachers are.

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  5. This article is disconcerting on so many levels. I am tired of the attack on teachers that is taking place in this country. I wish these same reporters would do some research on all of the other influences that happen in the lives of these children during a school year. Go collect data on the parents who engage their children in effective outside interests, and those who don’t have opportunities for those types of things. I think you can indict any number of people for failing children, and it’s not just teachers.

    As for John’s comment, I 100% agree. There are teachers who just teach EXACTLY what is going to be tested and nothing else. Does that make them good teachers? I’m sorry…EFFECTIVE.

  6. I teach in a district just outside of LAUSD, and have been warned not to comment with name/district less the Time print OUR test score info. That L.A. Times information says it will be printing INDIVIDUAL information on 6,000 teachers. I became physically ill at the thought of what the Times is doing to dedicated professionals, and not only that, to the schools and to the students who have just been assigned one of those teachers they’ve decided is “ineffective.”
    I too, wonder where they have gotten this information. It was my understanding that here in CA, test score information for individual teachers is only legally available to that particular teacher and district administration.

    The unions need to act on this in a big way. There should be an orchestrated boycott of the times just like there has been of the Chicago Tribune. Shame on the Times for printing names and photos of teachers and labeling them publicly ineffective based on test scores alone. I am disgusted. What a horrendous time to be a teacher in this country.

  7. Mr. Ferlazzo, as I re-read your post after reading the Times article, a couple observations occur to me:

    1. You write that the Times “publicly label(s) thousands of hardworking teachers as ineffective. The article names two “effective” teachers and two “ineffective” teachers. And the Times included comments from an administrator and a parent strongly defending one of the supposedly ineffective teachers.
    2. Am I the only one who finds it unusual that neither “ineffective” teacher seemed to be aware (until being informed by the Times) that their students’ test scores had dropped compared to the previous year? Teachers in my district get this data every year.
    3. Finally, with respect to your “I wonder how to the reporters would feel” analogy: in my previous career I was a TV news reporter. Hiring, firing, and compensation decisions were routinely made based on increases or decreases in the size of the audience. Those decisions were also based how effectively reporters’ stories got results — i.e., did they lead to positive changes in our community?

    • John,

      The Times has its data base set-up for anyone to identify a “valued-added” score for a teacher. I actually don’t use the word “thousands” — I write “countless.” The whole point of the article is to label anyone with a low valued added score as ineffective. The paper states that before the end of the month it will publish that data base so that anyone can access the value-added score for any teacher. Based on LAUSD overall scores, I think it is safe to say that a very large number of teachers will be judged ineffective using the criteria the paper is using.

      Your point is well-taken about teachers not being aware of the test scores. I am an advocate of being data-informed (though not data-driven), and I agree that teachers should have access to that data each year. My district provides it to teachers, too.

      I’m not sure how long ago you worked in TV news. I know for many years newsrooms often functioned as a “go to” place for people to receive help. From the analyses I have read of present-day media, that is no longer the case. I am curious, though, are TV stations actually able to pinpoint ratings for each individual story and reporter, or just for the entire show?

      Larry

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  9. In other news, police in crime-ridden communities are labeled “ineffective”, while police in upscale communities are “effective”, right?

    Actually, I’ll give them this – at least they did take a look at individual student progress, even if it was on a flawed instrument. Sadly, that’s better than most media do. It is certainly more fair to judge a student based on their own prior performance than against an arbitrary benchmark for someone in their grade.

    However, their coverage seems to gloss over socioeconomic disparities between students and schools (as the public prefers to do). Even by their measure, is the rate of progress of the overall student body the same at schools from across the socioeconomic spectrum?

    This “blame the teacher” craziness is so demoralizing.

  10. Great blog post! Thought people might want to see this link:
    http://hechingerreport.org/content/grading-the-teachers_4023/

  11. Pingback: Value-Added Data is Blowing Up in California, Thanks to the LA Times « Nashville Jefferson: A Nashville Education Blog

  12. I’ve noticed a drop in scores from second to third grade for instance and then a rise in fourth grade scores (seems like consistently year after year)…where’s that data? The second grade test is an easier test thus, the third grade scores are going to go down almost universally, regardless of the individual teacher.

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