Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Los Angeles USD v. Superior Court (Cal. Ct. App. - July 23, 2014)

"The Los Angeles Unified School District (the District or LAUSD) has developed a statistical model designed to measure a teacher’s effect on his or her students’ performance in the California Standards Tests (CST). This model yields a result—known as an Academic Growth Over Time (AGT) score—which is derived by comparing students’ actual CST scores with the scores the students were predicted to achieve based on a host of sociodemographic and other factors. These AGT scores are calculated at various levels—by individual teacher, by grade, by school, and by subject matter."

That's wonderful.  Getting data is good.  This is a piece (albeit only a piece) of relevant information about teacher quality.  The LAUSD should be applauded for obtaining and evaluating this data.

The LAUSD, however, wants to keep this data to itself.  It's willing to let the public know (pursuant to the Public Records Act) the various scores; e.g., that there's a teacher out there with X score and Y score and the like.  But that's all.  It refuses to tell the public which teacher has what score.

You might ask:  "Why?"  The Superintendent of the LAUSD, John Deasy, is happy to explain.  He says that releasing these scores "would (1) spur unhealthy comparisons among teachers and breed discord in the workplace, leading to resentment, jealousy, bitterness and anger, and proving counterproductive and demoralizing to some teachers, (2) discourage recruitment of quality candidates and/or cause existing teachers to leave the District, (3) allow competing schools to steal away the District’s teachers with high AGT scores, (4) disrupt a balanced assignment of the teaching staff — which is essential to the operations of the District — because parents would battle to ensure that their own children be assigned to the highest-performing teachers, and away from the lower-rated teachers, (5) undermine the authority of teachers with low AGT scores because parents and students alike would lose confidence in them, undercutting their ability to receive and accept guidance and perform their jobs, and (6) adversely affect the teacher disciplinary process because teachers subject to such proceedings could compare their AGT results with those of other teachers."

I'm surprised he didn't add (7) human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, and mass hysteria.

The Court of Appeal agrees with Superintendent Deasy's assessment.  The balance of public interests weighs against releasing this data.  Because '[o]ne would certainly expect that if told the AGT scores of each teacher in their child’s grade, many parents would attempt to have their child assigned to the teacher with the higher score and/or away from the teacher with the lower score."

What a nightmare.

It's worth noting that both colleges and law schools routinely collect and distribute individual-level teacher evaluations to their students.  Schools do it themselves, and private entities add to the mix as well.  Yet, somehow, some way, colleges and graduate schools manage to survive; indeed, to flourish.

I'm a teacher.  I get it.  No one likes bad reviews.  We're okay with dishing out bad scores/grades to our students, but we don't like getting bad grades ourselves.  Much less letting other people see 'em.

But guess what?  We'll survive.  And flourish.  Yes, having other people see your bad grades can be discouraging.  It can also be encouraging.  Motivating.  Yes, having other people see good grades can lead to teachers moving.  We call that competition for quality.  That's a good thing, not bad.

I say that knowing full well that AGT scores are hardly the be-all and end-all of teacher assessments.  I might add, however, that the exact same is true for student evaluations in law schools.  Sometimes a really good professor gets bad evaluations.  Sometimes a poor professor gets good evaluations.  It's an imperfect world.  Scores are imperfect fits.

But that things aren't perfect isn't a reason to keep them secret.  The much better policy is to reveal this stuff and to educate people about their limitations.  Obtaining the good while minimizing the bad.

Of course, it's a lot easier just to hide stuff.  Keep information to yourself.  Don't let the ignorant masses (i.e., parents) have access to the stuff that only you are sophisticated enough to understand.

That's one approach.  Lots of countries adopt it.

But I'm not really sure it's appropriate here.