Sunday, September 04, 2011

Appellate Court Gets It Wrong on NYC Teacher Data

Rick Hess makes a strong case for why this isn't a good idea:

Here's something you won't read too often in RHSU: "UFT president Michael Mulgrew is right." But he is. Just today, a New York state appellate court ruled that New York City must release reports that show value-added data on a teacher-by-teacher basis, with teachers' names attached. I agree with Mulgrew that this is an unfortunate decision.

New York City issues the reports in question to about 12,000 teachers annually, covering teachers in fourth through eighth grades whose kids take the state reading and math assessments. The value-added model in question incorporates a variety of factors, including student absenteeism, race, class size, and so forth. The result is good and useful data that ought to be incorporated into management decisions--but that shouldn't be released like this.

Several media organizations had sued for access to the individual teacher data. The appellate court ruled for the media outfits, determining that teachers' names did not fall within six exemptions protecting personal privacy under the law. The court explained, "Balancing the privacy interests at stake against the public interest in disclosure of the information...we conclude that the requested reports should be disclosed. Indeed, the reports concern information of a type that is of compelling interest to the public, namely, the proficiency of public employees in the performance of their job duties."

I disagree that these data, released in this fashion, serves a compelling public interest. There I find myself agreeing with Mulgrew and endorsing the UFT's announcement that it will appeal. Mulgrew's response to the decision focused especially on the hefty standard errors in the measurement. He said, "Experts agree that an 'accountability' measure with a 58-point swing--like the DOE's teacher data system--is worse than useless. Parents and teachers need credible, accurate assessments rather than guesswork." While I think he is engaging in a bit of hyperbole here, his larger point is broadly on target--and there are several other problems that Mulgrew could and should have flagged.

As I argued a year ago in response to the L.A. Times analysis, in explaining why--at least at this point--I think it's a bad idea to release teacher-level data with names attached:


Appellate Court Gets It Wrong on NYC Teacher Data

Rick Hess| 2 Comments | 17 Recommendations

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