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States grapple with teacher evals as part of race to the top

Many states are vying for federal Race to the Top funds. In order to get these merit-based funds, states are required to perform annual teacher evaluations and submit overall performance records as part of the application process. However, often these evaluations remain hidden from the parents and students of these teachers. But recently,the New York Court of Appeals ruled that evaluations for New York City teachers be released to the public marking what could be a trend for other states participating in the race to the top program.

New York City and the United Federation of Teachers have been fighting to keep the evaluations of its 12,000 teachers private, but earlier this year the State Supreme Court ruled that ratings must be made available. This decision was appealed and upheld by the New York Court of Appeals last month. The rulings have created a precedent for other districts across the state and may even establish a set of practices for other districts nationwide.

The ruling says that value-added ratings for teachers based on students’ standardized test scores must be released. The United Federation of Teachers claims that releasing these ratings is a violation of the personal privacy of teachers. However, supporters of the ruling and the courts have determined that as public employees, teachers are allowed afforded less privacy under the law.

The ruling notes that the public has a significant interest in knowing the overall performance of public school teachers. But, district offices say that providing this information presents a significant challenge, specifically the administrative cost tied up in separating sensitive information from the ratings, and providing ratings while all districts are still coming online in the evaluation process.

Several states are working on piloting new teacher evaluation systems and reconciling the information contained in them with freedom of information requirements. Appeals to overturn the ruling are expected to continue in New York and opponents are already working on asking for two years of data to be complete for comparison before releasing evaluations as an alternative option.

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