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Should Utah parents get to see teacher performance data?

Published March 4, 2013 10:44 am

Bill would make data widely available, critics say it may create issues.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Lawmakers wrestled with two education bills Friday advocating different answers to the same question: Should the public be allowed to view how individual teachers' students perform?

The Senate Education Committee decided yes.

Members voted 4-3 in favor of SB133, which clarifies that school performance reports should include such data for public examination online. The average growth scores of a teacher's students, which are based on state tests, would be available beginning next school year.

The idea is to help parents and the public see how individual teachers perform compared with others. Individual student data would still be private.

"This is not about protecting adults," said bill sponsor Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper. "This should be about protecting children. I think parents should have a right to look at data to hold teachers and teacher teams accountable."

State law already requires that classroom level data be published. But so far, it has not been published because state leaders are worried that may violate another part of state law that requires teacher evaluations be kept private. Stephenson, however, said he sees no conflict between the two laws.

The committee voted 2-5 against a more restrictive approach suggested in SB69. It would have allowed only parents — not the public — to access that data about their teachers, and only upon request.

The state school board, the Utah Education Association (UEA), the Utah School Boards Association and the Utah PTA, among others, supported SB69 and opposed SB133. SB133 now moves to the Senate floor.

Patti Harrington, with the Utah School Superintendents Association and Utah School Boards Association, worried that publishing individual teacher data would have a chilling effect. She said teachers who now take on special education students, kids learning English and children with other challenges, might veer away from working with such pupils in the future if they know they'll be judged for their lower scores.

"SB133 publishes that data totally out of context," Harrington said.

UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh said Utah teachers should be praised and appreciated for doing more with less than those in any other state. She said "enough is enough," and noted that other states that have tried publishing similar data have seen lower teacher morale, special education teachers labeled as ineffective and other unintended consequences.

"Public reporting of classroom level data has done absolutely nothing to help children or parents," Gallagher-Fishbaugh said.

Sen. Patricia Jones, D-Holladay, also worried that publishing such data might expose families to fears from teachers and parents about having their children in class.

"To me, it would be like comparing the effectiveness of a legislator by the number of bills he or she passes," Jones said. "Maybe we ought to be grading legislators instead of teachers."

Supporters, however, said parents should have a right to the data.

"People are not stupid," said Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George. "They understand there are many different data points and they can use those however they want."

Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Lehi, pointed out that high school sports stats are often published, yet academic statistics are difficult to find.

"You can open the paper and find out exactly how each player on the local football team is performing … but if you want to find out how a teacher is doing in a classroom or how a student is performing it's like trying to breach the castle wall to find out that information," Madsen said. "When the system is failing so often I think parents are entitled to know this information."