By JENNIFER MEDINA / NYTimes
New York City has embarked on an ambitious experiment, yet to be
announced, in which some 2,500 teachers are being measured on how much
their students improve on annual standardized tests.
The move is so contentious that principals in some of the 140 schools
participating have not told their teachers that they are being
scrutinized based on student performance and improvement.
While officials say it is too early to determine how they will use the
data, which is already being collected, they say it could eventually be
used to help make decisions on teacher tenure or as a significant
element in performance evaluations and bonuses. And they hold out the
possibility that the ratings for individual teachers could be made
"If the only thing we do is make this data available to every person in
the city - every teacher, every parent, every principal, and say do with
it what you will - that will have been a powerful step forward," said
Chris Cerf, the deputy schools chancellor who is overseeing the project.
"If you know as a parent what's the deal, I think that whole aspect will
The effort comes as educators nationwide are struggling to figure out
how to find, train and measure good teachers. Many education experts say
that until teacher quality improves in urban schools, student
performance is likely to stagnate and the achievement gap between white
and minority students will never be closed. Other school systems,
including those in Dallas and Houston as well as in the whole state of
Tennessee, are also using student performance and improvement as factors
in evaluating teachers.
The United Federation of Teachers
ted_federation_of_teachers/index.html?inline=nyt-org> , the city's
teachers' union, has known about the experiment for months, but has not
been told which schools are involved, because the Education Department
has promised those principals confidentiality.
garten/index.html?inline=nyt-per> , the union president, said she had
grave reservations about the project, and would fight if the city tried
to use the information for tenure or formal evaluations or even
publicized it. She and the city disagree over whether such moves would
be allowed under the contract.
"There is no way that any of this current data could actually, fairly,
honestly or with any integrity be used to isolate the contributions of
an individual teacher," Ms. Weingarten said. "If one permitted this, it
would be one of the worst decisions of my professional life."
New York invited principals from hundreds of elementary and middle
schools with sufficient annual testing data to participate in the
program, which will produce an elaborate stream of data on 2,500
In 140 schools - a tenth of the roughly 1,400 in the system - teachers
are being measured on how many students in their classes meet basic
progress goals, how much student performance grows each year, and how
that improvement compares with the performance of similar students with
In another 140 schools, principals are being asked to make subjective
evaluations of roughly the same number of teachers so officials can see
if the two systems produce widely disparate results. New York City
schools employ roughly 77,000 teachers. In all 280 schools, the
principals agreed to participate in the program.
Deputy Chancellor Cerf said that how students performed on tests would
not be the only factor considered in any system to rate teachers. All
decisions will include personal circumstances and experiences, he said,
but the point will be to put a focus on whether or not students are
"This isn't about how hard we try," Mr. Cerf said. "This is about
however you got here, are your students learning?"
Ms. Weingarten said the system was not needed. "Any real educator can
know within five minutes of walking into a classroom if a teacher is
effective," she said. "These tests were never intended and have never
been validated for the use of evaluating teachers."
The experiment is in line with the city's increasing use of standardized
test scores to measure whether students are improving, and to judge
school quality. A new bonus program for teachers and principals, as well
as the letter grading system for schools unveiled last fall, are all
linked to improvement in scores. Nationally, too, school systems are
increasingly relying on these measures to judge schools.
Virtually all education experts agree that finding high-quality teachers
is critical to improving student learning, particularly in high-poverty
urban areas, where good teachers are usually more difficult to find.
Recent research has found that the best teachers can help struggling
students catch up to more advanced students within three years.
But experts are grappling with how to determine what makes a good
teacher. Neither graduate programs in education schools nor previous
academic records are reliable predictors, they say. The federal No Child
districts place a "highly qualified" teacher in every classroom, which
typically means one who has completed a certification program, but this,
too, is not necessarily a good indicator of quality.
"It seems hard to know who is going to be effective in the classroom
until they are actually in the classroom," said Thomas J. Kane, a
professor of education and economics at Harvard, who is conducting
several research projects on teacher quality in New York City, and who
is involved in the new effort.
Mr. Kane said there was little evidence that teachers with the "right
paper qualifications" were any more effective than those without them.
"But most school districts spend very little time trying to assess how
good teachers are in their first couple of years, when it is most
important," he said.
Nationwide, more than 95 percent of teachers receive tenure within their
first three years of teaching, according to some studies. And once
teachers receive tenure, it is extremely difficult to have them removed
In some sense, New York's effort to judge teachers partly on their
students' improvement is a logical extension of the grading system for
schools that was unveiled last fall, although officials adamantly say
they have no plans to assign letter grades to individual teachers.
"I don't think anyone here would embrace the formulaic use of even the
most sophisticated instrument - you get tenure if this, you don't get
tenure if that," Mr. Cerf said.
He added that the new effort was just one of several ways in which the
city was exploring how to evaluate and improve teacher quality. In
recent months, city officials have begun training new lawyers to help
principals navigate the considerable red tape required to remove
They have increased recruiting efforts to attract talented teachers to
hard-to-staff schools. And they are allowing schools to earn merit bonus
pools to distribute to teachers based on test scores.
"This should simply be one more way to think about things," said Frank
A. Cimino, the principal of P.S. 193 in Brooklyn, who said he was
participating in the experiment. "It is going to tell you some things
you don't know, but it will miss the other things that go on in a
William Sanders, a researcher in North Carolina who was one of the first
to begin evaluating teachers and schools based on student test score
improvements, said that while such a system could be used to make broad
judgments, it was difficult to use it with precision enough to find
differences among teachers who are simply average.
"Can you distinguish the top teachers? Yes," Mr. Sanders said. "Can you
distinguish the bottom teachers? The answer is yes, too. But it would be
risky to make decisions using information at the classroom level for
teachers who are just in the middle. You might miss a lot that way."
The city's pilot program uses a statistical analysis to measure
students' previous-year test scores, their numbers of absences and
whether they receive special education services or free lunch, as well
as class size, among other factors.
Based on all those factors, that analysis then sets a "predicted gain"
for a teacher's class, which is measured against students' actual gains
to determine how much a teacher has contributed to students' growth.
The two-page report for each teacher examines information both from one
year and over three years. The information also compares the teacher
with all other teachers in the city, and with teachers who have similar
classrooms and experience levels. The second part of the report measures
how well a teacher does with students with different skill levels,
showing, for example, whether the teacher seems to work well with
Mr. Cerf said officials expected to decide by the "early summer" whether
they would use the analysis to evaluate individual teachers for tenure
or other decisions, and if so, how they would do so. Such a decision
would undoubtedly open up a legal battle with the teacher's union.