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City will spend $1.5M to extend judging of teachers via test scores

The Department of Education created videos to explain the reports. View them ##
The Department of Education created videos to explain the reports. View them ##

The Department of Education is moving to extend a program that judges teachers based on their students’ test scores — and it plans to start paying for the project with taxpayer dollars, at a projected cost of $1.5 million over the next three years. A formal request for vendor proposals released today indicates officials are also mulling an expansion of the program to more teachers.

The program, called the Teacher Data Initiative, launched quietly this school year after causing a politically explosive fight between the DOE and the teachers union the year before. The reports allow principals to track the “value” teachers add to students by looking at student test scores from one year to the next. The teachers union here has gone along with programs to judge entire schools based on test scores, but it drew the line at measuring individual teachers’ performance, arguing that so-called “value-added” models risk unfairly misjudging teachers. (Many academic researchers make this claim as well.)

After news of the effort surfaced, the union fought back by ushering a bill into state law that made it illegal for the city to use test scores when making decisions about job security. Both Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein decried the bill (Bloomberg called it a “special interest protection”), which the legislature passed with no public debate, and the data reports went out as planned.

About 12,000 teachers received the reports this year, all of whom who teach fourth-through-eighth-graders and either English or math (the most-tested subjects in the city). The reports grade teachers based on how much progress their students made on tests last year and give extra credit to those who made progress despite limitations such as students’ race, poverty, and class size.

I’ve spoken to some educators who think the reports are a great first step toward helping teachers think carefully about how to improve their work. The executive director of Teaching Matters, Lynette Guastaferro, called New York “a thought leader” for creating the reports. Others have been wary, including a teacher who wrote about his experience anonymously at the union activist Norm Scott’s blog, reporting that his principal is threatening to use the reports to determine which teachers remain at the school when it phases out. (Asked about the teacher’s allegations, Forte said she hadn’t heard of them but that the city has clarified procedures for teachers to follow if reports are misused.)

The Carnegie Foundation has been financing the reports so far this year, but the grant is about to run out, so the DOE issued a request today seeking a vendor that would keep up the work on the taxpayer dime. The vendor would publish the reports and manage any future expansions. You can see the full Request for Proposals below.
A technology company called the Battelle Memorial Institute has been working on the project until now, Ann Forte, a school spokeswoman, said.

Read the full RFP (which an earlier version of this post said was not available, but now is):

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