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Local Educators Differ on Teacher Rating Access

SCARSDALE, N.Y. – When New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced new rules for assessing teacher performance, howls of protest echoed across the state. Now the debate is on about whether those assessments should be made public. The state says yes, but there are bills pending in the Legislature that address the topic. Two would restrict access to information and the other would make the reviews of individual teachers and principals confidential.

One bill, put forward by state Sen. Greg Ball, R-Patterson, would make the reviews of individual teachers and principals confidential. A bill sponsored by Assembly member Sandy Galef, D-Ossining, would require confidentiality of personnel records used for or based on teacher classroom evaluations. Another bill, sponsored by Assembly member Ellen Jaffe, D-Suffern, would require a parent or guardian to make a request for the ratings of their child’s teacher through the Freedom of Information Law.

Assembly member Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale, did not respond to a request for her views on the bills, but told the News Journal she preferred to see the ratings made public.

Scarsdale Schools Superintendent Michael McGill, who spoke out against at the state assessment program earlier in the year, said there are legitimate concerns about the effect that releasing ratings might have on education.

“The main reason people worry about releasing the ratings is that the numbers will label teachers and principals incorrectly and unfairly. A second reason is that relative ranking is likely to encourage teachers to compete, rather than to collaborate: ‘Why should I cooperate with my colleague if my contributions could make him No. 4, while I'm No. 7?’”

McGill said restricting access could make the situation worse.

“As a practical matter, I don't know how it’d be possible to release results only partially,” he said. “In fact, I suspect that ‘leaking’ ratings, parent by parent, could be even worse than publishing the results openly. Partial information, gossip and half-truths will abound.”

In Eastchester, PTA Council Co-President Nicolette Minozzi also questioned the wisdom of limited access, but for a different reason. “What is the point of making it public if you are going make people jump through hoops to get it?” she said. “I'm not sure what the benefit is?”

Minozzi, an unemployed teacher with four children in school, said she would not mind, as a teacher, having her scores made public. “It would be perfectly fine with me. I'd like to know how my kids’ teachers are rated.”

Minozzi said the ratings might serve as a wake-up call for some teachers.

“All teachers should be on their toes,” she said. “Complacency is not a good thing.”

McGill said if both the public and educators accepted that the rating system is inherently flawed, public access would not be such a problem.

“I don’t think the state’s methodology is valid to begin with, so I don’t believe it’s ethical to use it or to publish the rankings it creates, when we know the results will be inaccurate by definition,” he said.

McGill said there are ways to rate teachers that would be fairer, but there are some things that cannot be quantified.

“I do believe we can rate teaching quality and classify it as ‘distinguished,’ ‘proficient,’ and so on. I think it's legitimate to consider students’ performance on standardized tests, especially over periods of three or more years, as one of many factors in that process,” he said.

“However, I don’t think there’s a legitimate way to label or rank order teachers with mathematical precision. There are too many variables, and many of the characteristics of excellent teaching aren’t quantifiable,” McGill said. “Think about the two or three best teachers you had in school or college. They were probably memorable for different reasons. What made them superior may well have been their passion, their love of learning, or their belief in you. Very likely, it wasn’t because you scored well on a state test sometime near the end of the year.”

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