SCHOOL MATTERS: Giving Parents Access to Teacher Ratings: What’s There to Hide?

SCHOOL MATTERS: Giving Parents Access to Teacher Ratings: What’s There to Hide?

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How well is my child doing in school? Is he improving? Is she falling behind?

All parents want to know how well their child’s teacher is doing at improving students’ reading and math skills. Yet providing parents information on teacher performance has long been taboo.

However, the recent decision by the Los Angeles Times to release data on how well 6,000 teachers in Los Angeles Unified have improved student performance signifies the crumbling of this information wall. For the first time, with a click of a mouse, parents can view how effective their child’s teacher is at raising student achievement in English and math.

The Times has acquired and analyzed data linking teachers to student achievement using a method known as “value added.” This approach calculates how much “value” a teacher adds over time by looking at the growth in student test scores in each teacher’s classroom. “Value-added” analysis helps answer questions such as: Do children in a teacher’s classroom make academic progress? How does a student’s academic growth compare to that of students taught by other teachers? Armed with “value-added” data, parents can better assess teacher performance, and thereby more effectively advocate for their child’s success in school.

Numerous concerns have been voiced about publishing value-added data in the Times. Some argue that value-added analyses rely too much on standardized test results, which leads teachers to focus instruction on tested subjects alone. Others note that parents will want their child transferred to the classroom of a more effective teacher, and those requests could cause headaches for school administrators.

It’s true that the approach used by the Times looks only at student achievement in English and math. But the reality is that parents send their children to school to learn how to read, write, and perform math at grade level. With millions of students in California performing below grade level in English and math – particularly students of color -- parents deserve the right to know how well their child’s teacher has done in helping improve achievement in English and math over the years.

We know that the most important school-based factor in raising achievement and improving student outcomes is the effectiveness of a child’s classroom teacher. Preliminary findings by the Times show that 8,000 third-to-fifth-graders in Los Angeles Unified were assigned to one of the district’s least effective English and math teachers for two years in a row. Research shows that when a child has an ineffective teacher, especially for three consecutive terms, achievement declines. And even if that child is assigned later on to a series of highly effective teachers, their impact is not enough to make up for lost ground.

Because of these stakes, the type of data published by the Times should be both transparent and easily available to teachers, school administrators, and parents. Teachers deserve to know how well they are doing their job. School administrators should know which teachers are struggling and need more help.

Of course, the use of value-added data alone will not solve our education crisis. A single score should not be the sole indicator of a teacher’s effectiveness, but it is a critically important indicator—one that teachers, school leaders, and parents all want and need to access. Keeping this information under wraps does not serve anyone, especially not the parents of students of color and students in poverty. In this information age, it is vital to provide parents with the teacher effectiveness data in order to better advocate for their children’s educational success.

Arun Ramanathan, Ed.D. is executive director of Education Trust-West.