Some teachers said they worry that the public release of individual teacher data is going to lead to fights over high-performing students, and to the neglect of those who most need their help.
Others said they were angry that their teaching careers were being reduced to a sliver of data.
And principals spent the first day back after a week-long vacation trying to explain to parents that numbers can’t capture “the magical instruction that goes on every day’’ inside the classroom.
In school hallways and on blogs, in e-mails back and forth, and on the sidewalks in front of school buildings, few people involved in the schools could help but talk about the release on Friday of the ranking of 18,000 teachers in grades 4 through 8.
The voluminous information has provided for the first time a periscope view of what happens in each teacher’s classroom. But the overwhelming reaction from educators and even parents is that the information is too flawed to really be used by anyone to make judgments about who is a good teacher and who is not.
“If this is the only measure of teacher performance, I think that it has the absolute opposite effect of encouraging student learning,’’ said Sophie Knowles, who got the highest ratings at her school, Intermediate School 347 School of Humanities in Bushwick, where she taught math until she resigned last year.
“Teachers will be fighting over who teaches kids at risk because they will be afraid of their own scores dropping,’’ she said. “And I think there’s going to be rampant cheating in May, which is sad, but I really don’t know that people know how else to cope with the consequences of these scores being published.’’
Michael Gleason, a fifth grade teacher at Public School 189 in Manhattan, said changes happened at his school every year that affected his scores being inconsistent from one year to the next: “It is truly heartbreaking to be so misrepresented publicly.’’
Another teacher, Katherine Ulanowsky, a 10-year teacher, wrote to SchoolBook: “Up until Friday, I was well respected by my colleagues and superiors,’’ she said, detailing that she is often at her school until 6 or 7 p.m. and spends vacation time on school work.
“I work an average of 10 to 11 hours a day and an additional six to eight hours on the weekends looking at student work, reading and writing curriculum, and planning lessons that target the individual needs of students in my class,’’ she said.
But, she wrote, “according to this data, I am an average to below average teacher.’’
And Paul Defelice of Preparatory Academy For Writers in Queens said:
"Teachers have little to no control over scheduling, curriculum, and discipline policy but these factors have an enormous effect on outcomes. Posting data tied directly to the teachers ignores the huge impact, both good and bad, that principals and administrators have on results.’’
Many principals also spent the weekend and Monday morning trying to explain the complex data to parents.
At Public School 40 in Manhattan, near Gramercy Park, Susan Felder, the principal, sent an e-mail to parents Sunday night saying that the information released on Friday was “one snapshot of data.’’
“I’m in classrooms often, as is my assistant principal, and we observe the magical instruction that goes on every day, and the teachers are constantly assessing students,’’ she said. “And that’s the measure of good teaching and good learning.”
At Public School 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, Elizabeth Phillips, the principal, has been very public about warning parents and the media that the numbers cannot be examined in a vacuum.
"I felt horrible for the teachers. My primary concern is supporting them in any way I can because I think they're outstanding and I would hate to lose any of them," she said.
She said with calls for more accountability, sometimes educators feel as if their only goal is to try to figure out what the testers want to hear.
"We as assistant principals and principals have looked at the scores and have joked about the questions and said, 'Well what do you think they want as the answer to this question?'" she said. "Now that's not the majority, but you're talking about minute changes in data accounting for teachers' in quote 'added-value' score, that makes a difference, and it doesn't say anything about the quality of teaching or the performance level of the students."
Ernest Logan, the president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, the principals’ union, said it was unfortunate that the data might be misused.
“The whole premise when they talked about doing this was to give a principal and a teacher a way of working on the teacher’s practice,’’ he said. “It was not to condemn the teacher -- especially not publicly.”
Ms. Knowles, the teacher at I.S. 347, said she decided to resign after four years of teaching, and after receiving tenure. She said she loved teaching, even though she had students with below-grade skills, limited English, and, in some cases, discipline issues. "I had the most amazing kids,'' she said.
It was everything else that got to her, she said -- the budget cuts and talk of layoffs, the threat of school closings, the elimination of music and drama in her school so that teachers could concentrate more on math and English, "because that's what we were being tested on.''
"I do think teachers should be accountable for student performance,'' she said. "That’s what our job should be based on. But you should only do this if you can agree on one standardized test from year to year that won't change, and make sure it's given on the exact same date. Until you can figure out how to do that, and it produces data that can be compared year to year and really track student progress, then no, these scores shouldn’t be released. Not enough people understand them.''
In spite of her disillusionment with teaching so far, Ms. Knowles has applied for the Fulbright Scholar program, and plans to return to the education field after that.
At Public School 186 in Brooklyn, the principal, Bayan Cadotte, said she had no questions from parents or complaints from teachers on the release of the data. If someone were to express concern about a teacher’s rating, she said, she would help put it in perspective.
“When your child doesn’t do well on an exam, we don’t say he’s a bad kid or a bottom kid,’’ she said. “We would say he may have had a bad day. It’s the same idea here. It’s just a number and we can’t just look at the numbers.’’
Chelsia Rose Marcius, Beth Fertig, Elbert Chu and Chris Palmer contributed reporting.