Evaluating Teachers In New York City

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Educators have long argued that standardized testing is a poor way to evaluate student knowledge. They also disagree over whether test scores are the best way to evaluate teachers. In New York City schools, a surprising compromise allows some of that data to be used.


For years, there's been a battle between the New York City Department of Education and teachers and their union. Over using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers. Some school systems in Texas and Tennessee, for example, do used student test scores to judge how teachers are doing. Recently, an agreement was reached between the two sides in New York, the city will allow some of the testing data to be used to measure teachers in the nation's largest schools system. NPR's Margot Adler reports.

MARGOT ADLER: On the surface, what a surprise. A joint memo from Joel Klein, the chancellor of the New York City schools system, and Randy Weingarten, head the United Federation of Teachers, the union that represent teachers and many other workers in the city schools. The memo says that the city will measured teacher's performance base on annual Math and English tests. There's a (unintelligible). The reports would be used as guides to help teachers improve not to determine pay or tenure. A pilot program began last January, but now says Deputy Chancellor Christopher Cerf, for every Math and English teacher who teaches fourth to eight grade, 18,000 teachers there will be...

Mr. CHRISTOPHER CERF (Deputy Chancellor, New York School System): A report, called, a teacher data reports, which lays out the particular data related to their own students, in their own students this year, their own students over the past couple of years.

ADLER: Here's how it works. It takes data, characteristics of the school, students of class size, level of English proficiency, number of special-ed students, and many other factors, and the result of annual Math and English tests. And creates a model that shows predicted gain for a teacher in that kind of situation and then sees if that particular teacher doing better than that predicted gain or not as well, and it can even see if that gain or loss changes with particular type of students, kids at the bottom, boys or girls.

Ms. RANDY WEINGARTEN (President, United Federation of Teachers): The whole notion of having standards and assessments is a good notion.

ADLER: That Randy Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers. Teachers union had been very wary of this kind of data being used to evaluate a teacher's performance. Weingarten says data is important if it helps improve but it's only one piece of the picture. There are lots about teaching. It can't tell you, and if you use it to determine pay or tenure.

Ms. WEINGARTEN: You're never going to be able to create a comfort level with data, if people see it as gotcha(ph).

ADLER: A New York City Deputy Chancellor, Christopher Cerf, who's in charge of the program says it's so important that this data get into the hands of teachers and teachers are comfortable with it.

Mr. CERF: That we have made a commitment that we're not going to use this reports for sort of traditional personnel reasons.

ADLER: In other words, it won't be use for tenure or pay decisions. Cerf says, he and Weingarten both believe knowledge is power and giving teachers information that enables them to hone their craft and get better is a value they share. Knowledge maybe power but the Department of Education has been adamant about wanting to use this data for tenure decisions, and the union has seen this as a line in the sand, so why the compromise. Last April, the New York State legislature sided with the State Teachers Union, New York State United Teachers, passing a two year ban on using test scores to determined tenure. Given the ban, that compromise makes more sense. In the past, Weingarten has supported some of the Department of Education proposed reforms, but when it comes to testing she believes the pendulum has swung too far.

Ms. WEINGARTEN: American education cannot be about simply figuring our how to fill in bubble sheets.

ADLER: For Christopher Cerf, they're maybe limitation to the model they're using but.

Mr. CERF: The whole idea of the standards movement is we're not going to let a thousand flowers bloom. We're going to make sure that the contents kids are expected to have by certain ages has been mastered in the skills along with it.

ADLER: So despite this agreement, the argument whether the teacher and in the classroom or a test scores knows best is far from over. And communities around the country will be watching to see how this data is use by the largest public schools system in the country. Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

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