Read This Database


So here it is, the database the education establishment didn't want you to read: Data on how well Los Angeles' third, fourth and fifth grade public school teachers did in improving how their students did on standardized tests.

Dry, you think? Not at all. I spent two hours with the database on Sunday, and found it absolutely gripping. It's not the teacher ratings that are so interesting. The value-added data here is only the first piece of what should one day soon be full public reports on teachers that incorporate all sorts of measures.

No, what's fascinating is what the teachers themselves contributed to the database.

The Times gave each teacher whose data was posted the opportunity to respond to the ratings. Many teachers, predictably, criticized the paper for posting the data, arguing that teaching can't be summed up with data points. Several teachers didn't stop there -- and went on to describe what their lives as teachers are like.

Here's my favorite, from Oxnard Street Elementary fifth grade teacher William R. Torres, who was less than happy about being found to be less effective than most teachers in the value added data:

"Even though we are on summer vacation I went to my school today to get my classroom ready. Interestingly enough I just received THIS YEAR'S CST scores. For this year (2010) 59% of my Fifth grade math students passed. 25% of them passed LAST YEAR. My added value would be 34 %. The average kid raised their scaled score by over fifty points. This would put me in the MORE EFFECTIVE category for 2010. I had 3 special ed students who raised their test scores. I had 2 girls who were separated from their families by child protective services who raised their scores by over sixty points. I had one child who stole from my desk and who missed more than thirty days of school who also increased his scores. I had a girl who missed over twenty days of school and who was in court frequently because her mother's boyfriend was going to prison increase her scores by 176 points. She went from far below basic to proficient. I had a super bright child who came up with a new way to add fractions whose test score went up 171 points. One day this year I was walking through the yard and a girl was choking and no one knew what to do. I did the steps of our emergency training and ultimately stuck my hand into her mouth and pulled out some blood and some food. She was more scared than injured. I emceed the school Halloween parade this year. I did this in English and Spanish and we raised money for the kids. I ended up buying ten pizzas for the kids who stay after school until six because their parents are working. I have about fifty phone numbers of parents in my phone because that is what we teachers do. I spearheaded a bathroom clean up project and was there on Saturday for beautification day and got twenty strangers to sponsor our class for Christmas and the kids received over nine thousand dollars worth of gifts. My wife and I even kicked in about five hundred dollars because we wanted those poor kids to have a Christmas to remember. That is what we teachers do. For test taking time my wife goes to Starbucks and gets the extra pastries they normally throw out every night and we give the kids a treat. From 2002 until last year I took about two years of post graduate courses that cost me well over fifteen thousand dollars. If I did not take the courses I would have been fired. That is what we teachers do. To help pay for the courses I took side jobs in addition to my teaching job. Last year was the first time I was free to simply teach. And my test scores skyrocketed. And that is commendable. However I think that being a good teacher is also about shedding tears with a parent until darkness falls because that parent is terrified that her daughter is on drugs. It's about making the entire campus better. Not just your little room. It's about helping the 200 pound second grader who is fighting and bringing him into your fifth grade class to give him a fresh start. It's about being positive and being informed. It's about spending your own time and money on people you may never see again. It's about taking the time to talk to kids who come back to you after they have graduated and they want to say they enjoyed your class. It's about going out to the yard during your break time and lunch time because you want the kids to know that you are always around and available. My job is about making great kids and I take that, very seriously. Numbers and stats have great value and some say teaching is a science but teaching is also an art. It's about emotions, feelings, instincts, relationships, patience, perseverance and a sense of humor helps. It is about reaching into the souls of children. What number or test score do you use to measure that? Sometimes the movies that make the most money are not the best movies. They do not make us better humans. Sometimes the numbers only tell part of the story. Shame on you, Los Angeles Times. Just because your numbers are low does not mean that you become low."

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