That might be easier said than done. In many cases, it's easier to gather data than it is to comprehend what they mean or how they should be used,
either in education policy or journalism.
Several years ago, the Los Angeles Times hired an outside researcher to help devise its own method for interpreting the teacher evaluation data
provided by the district. The high-profile publication of the "Grading the Teachers" project led to much debate in the education and
In a recent issue brief, Center for American Progress
senior education policy analyst Diana Epstein and co-author Raegen Miller (CEP's associate director for education research) suggested publicizing
evaluation results for individual teachers would do more harm than good.
Epstein and Miller were blunt in their criticism of a groundbreaking -- and controversial -- Los Angeles Times project that ranked
thousands of the city's teachers by their multi-year test scores.
By building its own interpretative model, the newspaper crossed the line from reporting to research, the authors contended. The Los Angeles Times (and others that follow its lead) should be held to a more rigorous standard, they argued.
"If journalists attempt to do their own analyses of value-added data, they should follow the same standards that researchers do when protecting human
subjects," Epstein and Miller wrote. "This means that data are de-identified and individual names are never published."
For the evaluations to be useful, the teachers have to be willing partners, and publicizing their names along with the results will only make teachers
less willing to engage in the process, the authors contended.
Doug Smith, the data reporter for the Los Angeles Times project, said his biggest issue with the report was that it was "doctrinal."
The issue brief suggested there might be negative consequences to this kind of reporting, but those were assumptions, rather than known facts, Smith
In reality, there have been no obvious negative consequences to publishing the names of the teachers and their ratings, Smith said.
"The district's test scores increased by about the same amount they have in previous years -- there was no significant difference," Smith said. "There
were no reports of parents storming the schools and demanding different teachers for their children, throwing the campuses into turmoil."
The Los Angeles Times gave teachers the chance to review their own rankings prior to the list being published, as well as a chance to add
written comments to their personal page on the paper's Web site. (The New York Times
is offering teachers a similar opportunity to comment and correct errors.)
"Most of the teachers who called were angry that we had published individual names, but we also got calls from teachers who thanked us for giving them
some feedback that they had never received before," Smith said. "We certainly know a lot of teachers were upset. There could have been a morale issue,
I won't disagree with that. But if we observed a clear and distinct negative impact, we would probably rethink what we're doing. But so far, we haven't