But here is how it works in practice:
The New York City Education Department on Friday released the ratings of some 18,000 teachers in elementary and middle schools based on how much they helped their students succeed on standardized tests. The ratings have high margins of error, are now nearly two years out of date and are based on tests that the state has acknowledged became too predictable and easy to pass over time.
But even with those caveats, the scores still provide the first glimpse to the public of what is going on within individual classrooms in schools. And one of the most striking findings is how much variation there can be even within what are widely considered the city’s best schools, the ones that each September face a crush of eager parents.
For parents, seeing the rankings of the teachers they know well can be shocking. Vicki Khan, a parent at Public School 333, the Manhattan School for Children on the Upper West Side, was surprised to see that some of the teachers whom she considers outstanding had poor ratings, including one who routinely sends many of her students to a highly selective middle school. One teacher who was often late and had poor control of the class, she said, did well.
“I’m finding it really interesting because it seems completely wrong,” Ms. Khan said, adding that one of the co-teachers in the sixth grade did not even get a rating, in an apparent mistake.
Anna Rachmansky, whose son is a fifth grader at P.S. 89 in TriBeCa, was visibly stunned upon discovering that a teacher she held in high regard scored in the 10th percentile in math.
“I’m very surprised she would get poor in anything,” Ms. Rachmansky said. “She’s a very strong educator. She individualizes the curriculum.”
Sandra Blackwood, the co-president of the parent teacher association at Public School 41 in Greenwich Village, said she had little confidence that the data would be meaningful, though she felt it was important to look.
“If it is anything like the school grading system,” she said, “it will probably be highly arbitrary and not make any sense.”
But even though parents can get a peek inside of school buildings for the first time to see differences among teachers, that does not help if the underlying information is incorrect, Elizabeth Phillips, the principal of P.S. 321, said.
“What people don’t understand is that they are just not accurate,” she said. “We are talking about minute differences in test scores that cause a teacher to score in the lowest percentiles,” like a teacher whom she finds great and who scored in the sixth percentile because her students went to a 3.92 average test score from a 3.97, out of a possible 4.
And that is not to mention the teacher who had test scores listed for a year she was out on child care leave, Ms. Phillips said, and the team teacher in a classroom who did not get a report at all.
Ah yes, the excellent teacher beloved by children and respected by parents - the one who routinely sends her students to a highly selected middle school - gets a low rating on the value-added measurement for the Teacher Data Report.
Is this a fair assessment of her teaching ability?
Of course not.
For now, all that happens is she gets humiliated in public (a bad enough consequence of this policy.)
Starting next year, she will be declared an "ineffective" teacher and slated for firing in another year if she doesn't "improve" and begin to "add more value" to her students' test scores.
And this will happen to thousands of teachers all over the city every year.
Eventually we will all get the "ineffective" label when the VAM decides we didn't add enough value to our students' test scores.
This is madness.
This is not going to improve public education in the least.
And it is of course not meant to.
It is meant to demonize teachers, break the union, and allow the districts to fire any teacher at any time for any reason.
And the education reformers and the political and education establishments behind this just may get away with it.
But there is one little problem with their plan: now they're screwing with the teachers of kids in places like Park Slope, TriBeCa, Great Neck and Scarsdale.
These are neighborhoods where many parents have the time and the financial resources to know what is going on in their kids' school (unlike in lower income neighborhoods where parents are working two or three jobs to make ends meet.)
Parents in places Park Slope, TriBeCa, Great neck and Scarsdale KNOW who the good teachers are and you can bet that when some VAM score comes down and says these teachers are "bad," the majority of parents who have been paying close attention to their kids' education are going to know the VAM is wrong.
As these parents in the Times article know it.
The publishing of the Teacher Data Reports has really pulled the curtain back on VAM and evaluation policy based upon test scores.
Parents are starting to see that this stuff is not what it is purported to be.
No wonder Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch didn't want the TDR's published with names of teachers attached.
She knew this would expose VAM for the crap it is.
Same goes for Bill Gates, Wendy Kopp and all the other corporate education reformers who came out against publishing the TDR's.
They were afraid parents and the public would see the fatally flawed VAM based on test scores as not the solution to what ills public education but as something that would add to the problems.
Unfortunately, the teachers unions have signed off on VAM for the future teacher evaluation system here in NY State, so there isn't much they will do to fight it.
In fact, they're defending it even as they denounce the very similar TDR system.
So the fight is going to have to come from parents, teachers and students to say "Enough with the tests! Enough with the VAM! We want our education system back!"