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Teacher grades

Value-added analysis, which has become popular in economic circles, can also be used to evaluate the performance of teachers in public schools.

A student’s performance on standardized tests in earlier years is used to establish a baseline. That child’s performance is then measured after a year spent under the tutelage of a specific teacher. If the student’s performance exceeds the baseline expectation‚ and if this proves true for many students passing through that teacher’s classroom — you’ve identified an outstanding teacher.

Should students consistently perform below expectations after a year in that classroom, however, the effectiveness of that teacher might be called into question.

Sunday, the Los Angeles Times launched a series of articles in which the newspaper applies this method and available test data to measure the performance of more than 6,000 third- through fifth-grade teachers in the nation’s second largest school district — the first time, experts say, that such information has been made public anywhere in the country.

All too predictably, the paper found that the attributes rewarded by current pay scales — years of experience, advanced degrees and academic credentials — have little bearing on whether a teacher improved student performance.

Nor were the best teachers concentrated in affluent neighborhoods, nor the least effective in poor neighborhoods.

For that matter, the Times reports that a student’s race, wealth, previous achievement levels — even proficiency in English — have little impact on teacher effectiveness.

Some teachers just engage their students better, challenge them, hold their attention and demand higher standards.

Yet while parents move heaven and earth to get their kids into what are perceived as better schools, they have access to virtually none of the data that would help them identify the best teachers.

Beyond that, both teacher unions and school administrators are reluctant to see that available data used to identify poor-performing teachers. The principal of the school featured in the Times’ first article Sunday refused to even discuss the differences among her instructors, saying, “Our teachers think they’re all effective.”

Saddest of all was the response of teacher Nancy Polacheck, whose students regularly gain 5 percentile points in math after a year of her tutelage, and 4 points in English, placing her among the top 5 percent of the Los Angeles district’s teachers.

Ms. Polacheck, who was reluctant to be singled out in any way and repeatedly asked a reporter why she was being interviewed, said her colleagues at the Third Street School think her expectations for her students are too high. “In the past, if I were recognized, I would become an outcast,” confided Ms. Polacheck. “They’d say, ‘She’s trying to show off.’ ”

Far from being rewarded for her fine performance — perhaps even asked to share her methods with others — this fine teacher feels so ostracized that she eats her lunch alone in her classroom.

And we wonder why so many public schools become engines of mediocrity?

Nevada has test data which could be used to measure teacher effectiveness in precisely the same way the Times now undertakes to do for the schools of Los Angeles. Yet the powerful Nevada teacher union lobby has prevailed upon our lawmakers in Carson City to essentially bar the use of that data for the purpose of identifying and rewarding effective teachers, because that would also allow poorer teachers to be identified for remedial action.

The law stands as a monument to the fact that our tax-funded “educators” place job security and union solidarity above an approach that could greatly enhance the individual academic potential of each child. For shame.

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