State education leaders will ask Utah Attorney General John Swallow for an opinion on whether to publish data about how individual teachers’ classes perform — an issue that has stirred controversy across the nation and in Utah in recent years.
Some argue such data would help parents and the public see how teachers perform. Critics say it’s not fair to compare teachers without context of their classrooms’ unique challenges.
The State Office of Education decided to seek the opinion because officials see a conflict within state law.
One Utah law directs the state school board to include classroom-level testing data on school performance reports, which would mean identifying individual teachers. Another law, however, tells the state school board to "ensure the privacy and protection of individual [teacher] evaluation data."
"The Board seeks your counsel in reconciling these statutes to appropriately provide student achievement information, protect sensitive student information and protect teacher evaluation information," reads the board’s draft letter to the attorney general.
Judi Clark, executive director of Parents for Choice in Education, which has advocated for publishing such data, said Friday she doesn’t see a conflict in the law or a reason for the state office to continue holding off on publishing the data.
"Just because the results of the evaluation are protected [doesn’t mean] that all data that may be used to come to an outcome should be protected as well," Clark said. "Parents have the right to that data in statute."
But Patti Harrington, with the Utah School Superintendents Association and Utah School Boards Association, said the data shouldn’t be widely released. She’d rather see the data discussed only by parents and principals, who can provide context.
She also thinks the issue should be decided by policymakers, not the attorney general.
"I think it’s a policy question, not a legal question," Harrington said.
Last year, the state school board dealt with the conflict by voting to encourage school principals to share classroom-level achievement data with parents who asked for it but to otherwise not share it publicly. Board members hoped lawmakers would pass a bill this past legislative session to clarify the point.
Lawmakers considered at least two bills dealing with the issue, SB69 and SB133, but neither passed.
SB69 would have allowed only parents, not the public, to access that data about teachers and only upon request. SB133 would have clarified that school performance reports should make data about the average growth scores of teachers’ students, based on state tests, public and available online.
Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, who sponsored SB133, said he sees no conflict in state laws and believes the attempt to get an opinion from the attorney general is "just another stalling tactic."
He said including information in a teacher’s evaluation doesn’t mean it’s automatically private.
"I think parents have a right to know," Stephenson said, "if their student is being assigned to an ineffective teacher."
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