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If you haven’t already done so, go ahead and read this controversial Los Angeles Times article about evaluating teachers based on how much their students’ test scores improve.

While the article isn’t about San Diego, it explains the method of crunching scores that President Obama has emphasized: value-added assessment. Los Angeles and other California districts that signed on to Race to the Top, a competition between states for federal stimulus money, have pledged to start using this method to judge teachers.

“If the money comes through,” the Times reports, “Los Angeles schools will have to rely on the data for at least 30% of a teacher’s evaluation by 2013.”

The story has been deeply controversial because it singles out individual teachers, based on a commissioned analysis of test scores, and because the Times plans to provide a database for readers to look up teachers’ scores.

Some critics dislike it because they feel it doesn’t adequately measure what teachers do; others point out statistical problems with this type of datasmithing, like this one. The teachers union in Los Angeles is telling teachers to write letters to the editor in protest.

Enough about Los Angeles — why does this matter here in San Diego?

Well, this is just the kind of thing that San Diego Unified has veered away from. And whether schools should use data this way — to judge teachers — is the invisible debate that underlies many debates over school reform here.

When critics like San Diegans 4 Great Schools complains that San Diego Unified didn’t sign on to Race to the Top, this is the debate behind what they’re talking about — using data this way. And when teachers union President Bill Freeman says that tests can’t be the only measure of a teacher, this is what he’s alluding to — using data this way. This Los Angeles story gives us a glimpse of what San Diego Unified has rejected, and what it would have meant for schools, for better or for worse.

— EMILY ALPERT

Emily Alpert

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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