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New York Teachers’ Union Denounces Teacher Data Reports

By Diana Hubert
Epoch Times Staff
Created: December 20, 2010 Last Updated: December 20, 2010
Related articles: United States » New York City
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United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew (C) spoke at the union's headquarters in Lower Manhattan on Sunday about Teacher Data Reports. Many teachers claim that the methods used to create the reports are inaccurate. (Phoebe Zheng/The Epoch Times)

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew (C) spoke at the union's headquarters in Lower Manhattan on Sunday about Teacher Data Reports. Many teachers claim that the methods used to create the reports are inaccurate. (Phoebe Zheng/The Epoch Times)

NEW YORK—Several teachers spoke at the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) headquarters on Sunday, calling the Teacher Data Reports “inaccurate” and “misleading.”

The reports are designed to evaluate performance of 12,000 fourth through eighth grade teachers based on their students’ standardized test scores in English and math.

“This is only a small element of the work that teachers do everyday inside the classroom,” said Michael Mulgrew, UFT president.

The union is currently suing the city to prevent the release of the reports to the public. Mulgrew claims that the data is flawed because it is based on inconclusive test scores using an inaccurate formula. Several media outlets requested the documents to be released as part of the Freedom of Information Act.

“You want reliable information to go out,” Mulgrew said. “That is the key.”

Pamela Flanagan, a teacher at Tompkins Square Middle School in Manhattan, noted that there were numerous inaccuracies in her report. The document indicated that she taught English when she actually teaches math and science, she said. It also omitted 30 of the 60 students she is responsible for, listed some students that had never stepped foot into her class and misclassified the type of classroom she teaches in.

“I’m very concerned that this may become a part of my professional record,” Flanagan said. “Of course, parents totally deserve to know what’s going on in our classrooms, but giving them a report that has me teaching the wrong subjects, the wrong students, and [in] the wrong kind of classroom is not going to help them understand anything about how effective I am as a teacher.”

Mulgrew said the added-value formula being used to yield the reports has a margin of error of 60 points. While the parents and the community should be informed about teachers’ performance, using an unreliable formula based on flawed test scores and with such a large margin of error would not achieve that, he argued.

“We entered into this work of helping to develop a value-added formula because we believe that one day it will help us help [the] children, but it is nowhere close to being a reliable formula,” Mulgrew said.

According to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, the reports that are based on this method attempt to take into account factors not within the teacher’s control, such as high poverty levels.

“One indication will never tell the whole story, and sometimes it is hard to discern definitive evidence from data alone—such as with a teacher who is ‘average’ according to these numbers, for example,” wrote Klein in a letter dated Oct. 25. “But where teachers have performed consistently toward the top or the bottom, year after year, these data surely tell us something very important.”

Professor Daniel Koretz from Harvard Graduate School of Education took part in evaluating the tests administered to the students by the state.

”We confirmed that the performance standards had become very lenient,” Koretz said in a press release by the state.

The teachers who spoke at the press conference said that although they tried to get the inaccuracies in their reports corrected with the help of their school principal, the Department of Education (DOE) said it was not possible.

Deirdre Corcoran, a fifth grade teacher at Brooklyn’s PS 321, said she was evaluated for one year, during which she was on childcare leave and did not teach any students. The report categorized her performance for that year as average and below average.

“This is damaging to my professional reputation, and it is irresponsible for the city of New York and DOE to publish data that they know is flawed when people’s reputations are at stake,” Corcoran said.

“When there is one error in the school, that affects every other classroom; one bad report has a domino effect throughout the school,” said Mulgrew, adding that if the DOE plans to continue spending millions of dollars on this project, he hopes the agency will begin to recognize the schools’ needs.

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