Teachers getting secret scores

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Despite an unwritten rule that schools can't get standardized-test data from the state that can show teacher effectiveness, some schools are paying an outside group to get it anyway.

Battelle for Kids gives teachers in 36 Ohio districts access to reports that show how much progress their students made in math, reading, science and social studies.

In Franklin County, participants include Bexley, Columbus, Upper Arlington and Worthington. The cost varies according to the size of the district; Marysville schools in Union County, for example, pay about $8,000.

The information is available to the teachers and their principals but is not made public because the nonprofit Battelle for Kids is a private company.

The Ohio Department of Education provides only district- and school-level information.

Student-level data is sent directly to students.

If the state would make classroom-level information -- the use of which has been controversial in some states -- available to schools, the public could see it, too.

The state's teachers unions and many education officials oppose that, although both the Ohio Education Association and the Ohio Federation of

Teachers were involved in setting the ground rules for Battelle's efforts to identify effective teachers.

Battelle's research project is called T-CAP, for Teachers Connecting Achievement and Progress.

The most important ground rule: The data can't be used to fire a teacher or determine a teacher's pay.

"The concern is that people will make rash judgments," said Tony Bagshaw, senior director of Battelle for Kids. "The concern is that people will go too far, too fast. Statistics, particularly complicated statistics, take time.

"We don't do things to people; we do things with people."

Some states and districts do use the data for evaluation purposes, but that's relatively rare and often sparks debate about whether it's fair.

The participating schools say they use the data to highlight teachers who are getting the job done and to make teacher training more useful.

The reports are based on complex test-score information, called value-added data, that measures student growth over a particular period.

The project, now in its third year, has resulted in more than 8,000 effectiveness reports for teachers.

Teachers in Marysville schools have found the reports useful, said Gregg Stubbs, director of school improvement there, because the reports answer questions that the official state statistics don't.

"How much did you grow kids? How much did you take the kid who wasn't predicted to ever pass the test but still showed a nice amount of growth? That's the difference," Stubbs said. "It helps us a lot in determining what professional development we want to target."

More than 800 teachers in 50 Columbus schools get such data, said Dean Fowls, a teacher on special assignment in staff development for the district.

"They can see which students they're having the most impact on," he said. "They can look at high-performing students, low students, middle students in four content areas. Some see a very good return for their efforts."

But the statistics are not a perfect measure of teacher quality, officials agree. That's what has made the debate about whether the information can be used to highlight good and bad teachers so heated.

"The whole point is not to identify and get rid of the teachers who are doing poorly," said Deb Tully, director of professional issues for the Ohio Federation of Teachers. "It's to identify teachers who are doing well, those who need help, and get help to teachers who need it."

Some argue that the statistics aren't statistically solid enough to account for factors unrelated to the teacher that might affect student achievement. And classroom-level statistics aren't available for all students because Ohio requires such testing only in varying subjects in grades three through eight.

That's why using the data for teacher-evaluation purposes "would set up an uneven system for evaluating teachers in the district," said Randy Flora, director of education policy and coalition relations for the Ohio Education Association.

Battelle for Kids agrees.

"I do not buy into the notion that the only thing that matters in being a good teacher is what shows up on a test that's taken once a year," Bagshaw said.

"While I think that this has great potential, I think it can help teachers, I think it can help kids. I'm not of the ilk that says this is all there is to being highly effective."