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San Diego Unified is slated to consider an $80,000 contract with statistician William Sanders and the North Carolina-based SAS Institute Inc. to crunch numbers on student testing over the school year.

The school district recently began using a new system that allows for quicker, deeper data analysis and ties test scores to individual teachers. Sanders’ system is slightly different. He is known for “value-added” research that tracks individual student growth, and his method has been employed in some districts as a way to calculate how much a teacher helped a student, a key part of the calculations used in merit pay, which gives teachers bonuses for improving student achievement.

Superintendent Terry Grier previously worked with Sanders in Guilford County, N.C., where a pilot program used Sanders’ data to gauge whether teachers would earn bonuses for performance. Though Sanders has emphasized that he is a statistician and does not drive policy, his work is controversial among educators and especially among teachers unions, which are unconvinced that it properly screens out other factors that can influence student scores.

If the school board approves the contract, San Diego Unified staff will evaluate Sanders’ research this year to decide whether to use it more broadly next year.

EMILY ALPERT

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