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How The Times built teacher effectiveness database [Updated]

TalkBackLAThe Times soon plans to publish a database on its website charting Los Angeles Unified School District teacher performance, allowing parents and others to examine the information.

In the video above, Times Database Editor Doug Smith describes the yearlong effort to gather the test scores and build the database. He also talks about the efforts over the last few weeks to provide teachers with the information before it goes online, giving them a chance to submit comments that will appear next to their scores. Smith said. The Times assembled a team to send out the information to nearly 2,000 teachers.

Smith also addresses some of the concerns raised by teachers and others about publishing the data. Smith said he's aware of concerns that the database could embarrass teachers and confuse parents. But he said he felt strongly it is important to make the data public and spark a debate about how to better use the information in making schools better.

What do you think? Share your views below.

[Updated Aug. 29 at 8 a.m.: Visit The Times' Los Angeles Teacher Ratings database, which launched Sunday, to learn more about how effective 6,000 Los Angeles Unified elementary school teachers have been at improving their students performance on standardized tests.]

Comments () | Archives (42)

Okay, let's do it. Let's free people from the spell of Chekism that value added ratings has cast over them. Let me start by stressing that I am not attempting to suppress anyone's opinions, nor do I intend to demean value added ratings personally for its beliefs or worldviews. But I, for one, do feel that I must detail the specific steps and objectives needed to thwart value added ratings's lackadaisical schemes.
Life isn't fair. We've all known this since the beginning of time, so why is value added ratings so compelled to complain about situations over which it has no control? The answer is not obvious because value added ratings operates on an international scale to force square pegs into round holes. It's only fitting, therefore, that we, too, work on an international scale, but to call for proper disciplinary action against value added ratings and its subalterns. In short, permitting fatuitous sensualists to silence anyone whom value added ratings considers egocentric is tantamount to suicide. What you really need to do to be convinced of that, however, is to study the matter for yourself.

I don't know the number of people who will read these words or what number will hear and heed my message. Regardless, it is imperative that as many people as possible learn that value added ratings has overstated its case against me by alluding to an illusory past. First, the misinformation: value added ratings suggests that it commands an army of robots that live in the hollow center of the earth and produce earthquakes whenever they feel like shaking things up a bit on the surface. Where the heck did it come up with that? It is only when one has an answer to that question is it possible to make sense of its antics because its underlings are postmodernist big-mouths (literally!). Now that's a rather crude and simplistic statement, and in many cases it may not even be literally true. But there is a sense in which it is generally true, a sense in which it doubtlessly expresses how if it weren't for overweening vagrants, it would have no friends.
If we let value added ratings channel the pursuit of scientific knowledge into a narrow band of accepted norms that are based exclusively on its bloodthirsty, addlepated catch-phrases, then greed, corruption, and ruffianism will characterize the government. Oppressive measures will be directed against citizens. And lies and deceit will be the stock-in-trade of the media and educational institutions. One may very well question whether value added ratings is an embodiment of all human malice that has come before. Still, most people will eventually be convinced that value added ratings's hastily mounted campaigns are more than just uncontrollable. They're a revolt against nature.

My son attended one of the top 100 schools, had a teacher ranked high in the 5th grade. He was very good, and I knew this before the rankings came out! How? Because I was involved! When I picked my son up I asked questions. I went to the teacher to ask questions. The questions were always answered promptly, and with great enthusiasm for my son's abilities. It didn't hurt that there was a strong Parent Support Group at the school, buying books for the library and the like, as well as a YMCA on campus to provide after-school care and encourage community amongst the students. Bottom line: PARENT INVOLVEMENT. A value-added teacher is only good if you help your child get the most of that opportunity.

I'm not sure how the elementary schools in LAUSD operate, but in Orange County, many districts (like mine) have schools where the students move in and out of classrooms for various subjects, based on ability and need. The students on my home room roster are not necessarily the students I teach for English, Math, etc. So how can I be judged on their growth when I'm not the one teaching them? Does this happen in LA? Seems unfair.

First they came for the socialists, and I did hot speak out because I was not a socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out, because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew

Then they came for the undocumented immigrants in Arizona, and I did not speak out because I am a citizen.

Then they came for the teachers with low "value added" scores and I did not object, because I had high value added scores

Then they came for the veteran teachers because everyone knows they are just burned out and lazy and I did not speak out because I was not a veteran teacher

Then they came for the teachers who did not use scripted curriculum, but I did not object because I always use Open Court and High Point

Then they came for me and by that time, there was no one left to speak up for me.

Based on words by Martin Niemoller

The rest added on by me

"Let the accountability begin" Really? Why are those who started a war of choice that killed thousands and caused the torture of countless others not held "accountable?" Why are the city of Bell employees still going to get huge pensions???? Yet, oh my God , we must, must, must hold teachers "accountable" by ONE number!! Americans are the dumbest people on the face of the planet

Not every teacher was on this list. ONLY teachers who served a certain amount of time in a grade level were put on this list.

What about the other teachers who move around through the grade levels? Don't they get to be called out too? Many people move around BECAUSE they cannot handle a certain grade, so they move up or down, depending.

This makes no sense.

This one of the reasons why I do not put my children in this pathetic LAUSD system.

I am dismayed at the number of people lambasting the Times for their series on education. What's worse is that many of the people commenting on these boards seem not to have read the articles. The complainers talk about the Times' need to visit a classroom to see how difficult it is, or that the Value-Added method is flawed because it doesn't, they assert, take into account the politics of student assignments or the economic and language problems of students. They make these complaints despite the FACT that the Times visited many classrooms, interviewed teacher after teacher, and poured through thousands of pages of data. And guess what, the data has suggested that the best and worst teachers can be found just a few feet apart in the same schools.

When a teacher in a low-income school gets a great score, while her coworker just down the hall gets a poor score, it is fair to assume that the former doesn't have all rich, white kids and the latter poor, hispanic kids. And even if that was true, it has NOTHING to do with how the Value-Added method measures effectiveness.

These individuals' inability to look at this issue objectively and to think critically about the subject only illustrates why so many teachers get poor scores.


Well, Raptured, classes are grouped by ability.

One 4th grade class could be G.A.T.E while the other is low level and ELD levels 1-3.

To compare the two teachers and their "effectiveness" is absurd.

Not to mention, student population in my school is transient. 1/4 of my class moves in and out within a year. Last year I received a student 2 weeks before the test. Should I be accountable for him? No. Will I be? Yes.

I get kids in the middle of the year and I can't turn them away. I don't know who taught them or why they are coming in (kicked out of other school or moved are usually the two options) so then I'm accountable for them as well....for 1/2 a year of teaching.

I think what you are doing is a good thing but to really know who is doing a good job you really need to be in the class room. I work in a school and your data was upside down one of the hardest working teachers who cares so much about the children and drives very far to teach there was placed as least affective and most of the others were incorrect. your intentions are good but you are putting many people down and others around the district that are not doing a good job you are encouraging to continue what they do.

Shame on you for such irresponsible journalism! Judging the worth of a teacher based upon just one small snapshot is disgraceful. It's like judging a dentist based upon the number of cavities his patients have. There are things which teachers (and dentists!) simply cannot control. Can the dentist be held responsible for the cavities of the patient who does not brush? How about the patient who eats nothing but sweets or hasn't seen a dentist as often as he should? It's the same for teachers. Is the child feeling ill that day? Did his parents have a huge fight the night before "THE TEST?" How many days of school has the child missed or been tardy? Did he have a bed to sleep in the night before? Does he have learning disabilities which are not yet diagnosed? Yes, every teacher has these students, but some classes have less special circumstances than others. To rate a teacher on his or her performance based solely upon this data is a punitive measure which may or may not be an accurate rating. This data is flawed, and you are publishing it for the world to see. Shame, shame, shame on you!

Another example of journalism by the bankrupt Tribune Company.
Intellectually bankrupt, morally bankrupt, logically bankrupt, statistically bankrupt... you get the point. You go to great lengths to explain that this article will only be a part of the story, and maybe not a significant part. But you print it anyway and of course you'll "explain" to the readers and public why it's not accurate or complete or meaningful? Can you fit that in a headline?
Now the LA Times joins the great opinion makers of the nation like Hannity, Rush, Glen Beck and the Chicago Tribune by demonizing the people who actually do the work, instead of giving teachers what they need to deal with the kids who come in the door.
Actually we shouldn't worry, newspapers are dinosaurs. They will soon be replaced by blogs.

Clearly some of you lack the mental ability to understand the points made by the Times or me. Simply saying that "it's absurd" to compare teachers, or that your students are "transient" and therefore skewing the results are not arguments. As I said before, the level of intelligence, economic backgrounds, and language capabilities have NOTHING to do with HOW value-added results are measured. Moreover, if any of you would have read the articles you would have learned that many of the teachers who received the kids with the poorest test scores, had the highest value added scores because they helped those students improve more. So, the argument that having dumb kids with poor, stupid parents makes it impossible for a teacher to perform adequately is garbage.

Now, I understand that it may be "easier" to get a higher score when your kids come in with an average of 65 as opposed to 95. That's why, on other posts, I have suggested a weighted value added indexing system where more weight is given to a teacher who can improve an already high performing student and less weight to a teacher who improves a student who has been next to brain dead in prior years.

It's disturbing that so many of you are willing to stick with an incredibly inadequate system where aweful teachers are allowed to continue "educating" kids as opposed to implementing a system where something quantifiable, the value added score, becomes a part of the evaluation process (it's not the entire measurement of a teacher, by the way).

And, as a side note, for all of those who assert that this is a bad idea because it's not done in other professions - we actually do evaulate other professions. If I hire a lawyer, I ask his success rate. If I need a surgery, I ask if the doctor has performed it successfully before and how many times. If I need a mechanic, I ask around to see what his reputation is and the quality of work he performs. Many of us know who the good and bad teachers are, this is just a way to reward the good ones and fire the bad ones.

You should have considered whether or not the teachers are still alive. How disgusting to publish a deceased teacher's effectiveness. I'm sure their survivors enjoyed that article!

Raptured, that is not the point.

I am all for teacher evaluation. I am ALL FOR getting bad teachers out and hiring back good teachers that were laid off.

But people's names and places of work should NOT be online even if they are public employees. This information should have been for the teachers, the principals and the parents. Not everyone in the world.

Whatever my rating was, I feel violated and feel my safety is at risk. I took great measures to hide myself from someone and now my name and place of work are there for everyone to see. It's not right and should not be legal.

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