I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Monday, August 23, 2010

Journalism, Ethics, and Schools

Bruce Baker tweets toward (is that the right preposition?) a follow-up piece in the LA Times on "value-added" teacher assessment. Again, VA is a method to evaluate teacher performance through tracking student scores on standardized tests, then using a statistical model to show how much "value" a teacher adds in student achievement.

Bruce lays out his objections on his blog; mine are here.

One of my biggest concerns is that the Times thinks the correct way to use VA is to have a newspaper analyze the data, then publish it in a database that lists teachers' names with their "scores." They even find it in their hearts to allow teachers to comment on their scores in a web form.

Which is why this part of the follow-up article really stood out to me:

Parents — and even principals — don't know this because the district doesn't measure progress in this way, although it could.

Schools such as Wilbur shine under the current measure of academic success — the all-important Academic Performance Index — based on students' achievement level on standardized tests. But, as state data show, such measures largely reflect students' advantages outside school, not what the school itself is contributing to their learning. 
The API obscures the fact that students at Wilbur had the potential for further growth that went unrealized. Instead, they tended to slip every year while those at other esteemed schools in well-off neighborhoods made great strides. It also obscures the gains in schools in impoverished areas. 
A similar story is playing out across the country. (Emphasis mine)
There is no way to read this and not interpret it as the LA Times taking an advocacy position for using VA in evaluating teachers; this despite the objections of many experts.

Further, the website with the teacher ratings has advertising. The LA Times is making money by publishing individual teacher evaluations using a method that has not been subject to governmental or academic scrutiny.

Is anyone else bothered by this? Does anyone else think the Times has compromised its objectivity on this issue by clearly advocating for the use of VA assessment? Can we trust that their reporting will be objective? Can we trust that they will weigh carefully the full ethical implications of publishing individual teacher names with their VA ratings?

And should the LA Times be making money from this?

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