Journal Educates No One With Meaningless Info Dump

December 16th, 2009 · No Comments · Uncategorized

By Tracy Dingmann

Here we go again.

On Tuesday, the Albuquerque Journal ran last year’s elementary student proficiency test scores, broken down by classroom teacher name. The Journal ran a short story in its print edition that day and then published all of the actual numbers onABQJournal.com.

This is the second time the Journal has published these scores in this way. I have complained before (here and here) about the journalistic reasoning behind this kind of meaningless information dump (as have others). My disdain stems from the fact that these numbers tell us very little about actual teacher performance.

I realize that President Barack Obama and his Education Secretary Arne Duncan have said they want to link teacher evaluations to student performance when deciding which states will get a piece of the federal education stimulus fund called “Race To The Top.”

But there’s a real problem with the instrument that’s being used to measure this so-called link. The scores are based on tests that students took last April. How were the students doing when they came into that classroom? How were they doing when they left?

The Journal’s own story accompanying the release of the test scores is basically a giant disclaimer about the value of the information.

From the story:

“Measuring teacher success by student achievement is a good idea, but static data won’t do the job, said Candace Crawford, a teacher quality associate at the Washington D.C. – based advocacy group Education Trust (emphasis mine.)

Crawford said a system can measure teacher effectiveness only if it looks at “value-added” data that measure how a cohort, or single group of students grows more proficient over time.

And this:

APS Superintendent Winston Brooks said he is also skeptical that the single-year data can shed much light on teacher quality.

“I think we have to look at it cautiously,” he said. “The thing I always say about this is that when I was a principal, I typically put my very best teachers with my kids that were hardest to teach.”

And also this:

“That one score doesn’t tell you what’s going on in that classroom every day, who the students were when they entered the classroom, how much they’ve grown, what other talents have developed that can’t be tested with such a limited instrument,” Albuquerque Teacher’s Federation president Ellen Bernstein said.

Indeed.  So why publish this data at all? Because you can? That reason’s not good enough.

Dumping a bunch of test scores on your readers is worthless unless you can provide some kind of reason about why they might be the least bit meaningful. Or not.

I would love to see that kind of analysis here. But I don’t. So do us a favor and skip the numbers until you can tell us what part they really play in student achievement and teacher performance.

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