Teachers Union Heads Back to Court Over Release of Ratings

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Teacher Lynda Costagliola at PS 3 in Brooklyn (Beth Fertig)

New York City teachers are trying once again to stop their report cards from being released to the public. An Appellate Court panel will hear arguments Tuesday over whether the city can release teacher ratings to the media. The ratings rank each teacher's effectiveness based on how much progress students made on state exams.

The teachers union is appealing because it failed to convince a state judge that the rankings were flawed, and that releasing them would violate teacher privacy.

At PS 3 in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, teachers said they support their union and believe the ratings are both flawed and highly complicated.

"I would rate myself as, I don’t know, exceptional, above average," said Lynda Costagliola, who has been teaching for 33 years.

Costagliola said she can see the evidence all around her fifth grade classroom: examples of student writing cover the walls. When the students worked on a geography project, they had to learn new vocabulary words to go with their blue, paper globes.

"I know they're learning," she said. "I see what's coming in with homework. I see what they're doing in terms of responding in class. I see how they work as a group. I see how they come in at 7, 7:15. They're getting on the computers. They're getting into their notebooks. They're working on projects."

But Costagliola was devastated to learn that in the 2008-2009 school year, her teacher data report said she was merely average to below average. That ranking was based on how much progress her students made on state math and reading tests.

Here's how it works:

The city looked at how her students performed as fourth graders; how they were expected to score in her class as fifth graders; and their actual fifth grade results. If students perform better than expected, the teacher is better than average. But Costagliola teaches the gifted-and-talented class, which means all scored high to begin with so there's little room for improvement.

"Looking at me, on paper, if you were a parent you'd say, 'Oh I don't want my child in that teacher's class. That teacher got a below-average in math,'" she said. "Well, I had about three or four kids last year who came in with perfect scores. Where do you move them?"

The city's Department of Education said it compares teachers only to those with similar classes. So if Costagliola was average, that's because another fifth grade teacher of gifted-and-talented pupils had a class that made even more progress. Costagliola doesn’t buy that argument. And neither do her co-workers.

"She's being penalized," said Lynette McCord, who teaches fourth grade at PS 3. Her ranking was above-average in math and average in reading. 

McCord said her rank is higher than that of her colleague's because many of her students scored at just a level 1 or 2 on their previous year's state exams.

"So when they leave me, they're mostly at 3s, some 4s," she said. "They are going to move. We're going to make sure that they move. They have somewhere to go."

But if students come into fourth grade at level 1 or 2, does that mean their third grade teacher might not have prepared them well?

McCord doesn't buy that argument.

"I think all teachers are different and have different learning styles," she said, "but I do think they're all doing what they think they need to do."

Lisa North, a second grade teacher and the school's union representative, agreed it's hard to blame a previous teacher for a student's low scores.

"It’s almost not fair though to say just the third grade teacher," she said. "You have to say the pre-K teacher, the kindergarten teacher, the first grade teacher, the second grade teacher, the third grade teacher. You have to look at all of that."

There are additional factors such as whether students are still learning English or if they have special needs. The city said its rating system accounts for all of those variables, however, by comparing teachers with similar students.

But those caveats are also why teachers oppose releasing the ratings. Costagliola doubts whether people hearing the news or checking out their teacher on a website can understand how complicated the ratings are.

"I honestly don’t know," she said, when asked if she can trust the public. "It depends on how the information is disseminated to them."

"For some reason across the country it's become, you know, 'Let's get these teachers,'" she said of the current national climate. "I have no problem being here. I just don’t want to be judged on a 90-minute test."

For better or worse, those tests are already being used by the city to evaluate teachers. The question before the appellate court panel is whether ratings generated from those tests can be shared with the public.

If the NYC Teacher Ratings are released to the public, WNYC plans to make them available on We welcome each teacher to respond to their rating now so we may include their comments with their rating.


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Comments [7]

well ther you go, you picked up on the most important piece, the teacher's picture! If that is all you got, and IF you are a teacher.... shame on you.
You might be part of that 5% who give the other 95% a bad name for the profession. Or maybe you are not part of that true profession at all.

May. 06 2011 09:37 AM

Hey Beth-

Why don't you choose a teacher who is thin and looks 'cool' for your picture. You are definitely in the hands of Bloomberg. I've been following your coverage for a number of years and you have no independence or insight into the education situation. Your journalistic tactics are subtle, but not to those who are in the know--those who teach day to day in a system that is totally inadequate to the task. I am so disappointed in your coverage as I am a devoted listener to WNYC. I turn off the radio when I listen to your commentary. Get with it, girl.

May. 05 2011 10:37 PM

@Katie from Brooklyn,
explain how a student who scores a 4 can score higher, which is the way the public reads the teacher evals? Since you are about as ignorant as arrogant... i'm guessing you must be one of those in favor of the union busting charter schools. Who don't really have to worry about the stats, because if a child doesn't enhance the schools stats, they are tossed.
G/T students are as much of a challenge as any other student, if only because to keep them going, one must continue to peak their interest and desire to learn. There are many other questions i could ask, but i suspect you would become defensive and justify your try lack of understanding of the real classroom world

May. 04 2011 11:47 PM

Jason and Katie, I believe "no room to grow" refers specifically to the scores which gifted children are receiving on the standardized tests in which the Department of Education and the City of New York are putting so much stock. If a perfect grade is a 5, and your classroom of students had 5s last year as well -- at least, this is my understanding of these report cards -- then, because there was no improvement (no increase in the score) then obviously, the teacher is not doing her job.

It's a minor detail (you can't do better than a 5 on the standardized test) that the report cards fail to take into account. That's what they mean by "no room for improvement." No room for improvement *according to the numbers*.

May. 04 2011 05:53 PM

Actually, the value-add measure doesn't require there to be room to grow. The measure looks at students actual scores relative to their predicted scores from one year to the next. Some students actually make negative progress in the sense that they don't achieve a year's learning growth. That happened to my high-achieving daughter after a year in an elementary school classroom where she was left largely to her own devices because she was performing well ahead of grade level so her teacher basically felt she was "just fine." The attitude that high-achieving kids have no room to grow is poisonous.

May. 03 2011 11:35 AM
Katie from Brooklyn

Gifted and talented students have little room for improvement? What an ignorant statement! Unless every student in the class had a perfect score the previous year, there was room to improve. And even in that unlikely event, it's a terrible attitude for a G/T teacher to voice. All students have untapped potential and room to improve. One of the obvious challenges of teaching G/T students is that it can be more difficult to coax improvement out of kids who can achieve good grades and test scores without much studying. If you're not up to that challenge, don't teach G/T.

May. 03 2011 09:00 AM
Jennifer Hardy from Brooklyn, NY

I am a thrid grade teacher in a NYC public school. I object to everything that has to do with use of test results. They have very little to do with what really goes on in a classroom on a daily basis all year long. And as Ms. Costagliola notes, if you have children coming in with high test scores, teachers are actually punished because students can score no higher. This makes NO sense! By this logic, as a third grade teacher, I should purposely aviod preparing my students for the test in order for them to "show growth" in 4th grade and ensure my colleagues of a satisfactory rating!

I was thinking that instead of using test data to rate teachers, that our principals' annual rating of teachers could be used instead. Principals are our educational leaders and each teacher's performance is evaluated carefully by his or her administrators each year.

But then I wondered who else's job performance is publicly and annually rated? Bus drivers? Subway car drivers? Sanitation workers? Police? Politicians?
Is it because of tenure and job security that teachers are singled out to be publicly rated using a flawed system and invalid and unreliable testing, (the rigor and format of which changes frequently, by the way)?

I hope the court elects to protect teachers from this injustice!

May. 03 2011 07:44 AM

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