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Parents may soon be able to learn how their children's individual teachers rate when it comes to student achievement.
But the general public will not be given access to that information.
The Utah state school board jumped this week into what's become a national debate over whether individual teacher performance data should be released publicly. The board voted 9-6 on Friday to encourage school principals to share classroom-level achievement data with parents who ask for it. But the data will not be posted publicly, meaning nonparents will not have access to it, and parents will not likely be able to see that information for schools other than their own.
"I believe strongly in transparency. We are a public entity. We are using public funding. We should be as transparent as we can possibly be… but to just put that information out there to the public on the Gateway would do a disservice," said board chair Debra Roberts, referring to the Public School Data Gateway, an online system that posts broader achievement data for Utah schools.
Others, however, believe the information should be available to everyone.
"I don't think that the school system should be able to hide a poor performing teacher from public scrutiny, and we should be able to know which teachers are doing the best jobs," said Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper. "The public pays for the education system and it is not just the parents but everyone in our community who relies on a well-educated citizenry."
Roberts said State Office of Education staff will now re-examine rules governing the release of such data and possibly suggest changes to reflect the board's vote Friday.
On Thursday, board members heard a panel discussion about the pros and cons of making such data public. Some worried that releasing classroom-level data could compromise student privacy. Others also argued that releasing individual teacher achievement data to the public online would be unfair, saying test scores alone don't paint a full picture.
"The full measure of a teacher's effectiveness is never going to be captured through a single standardized test score," Sara Jones, with the Utah Education Association, said Friday, noting that subject matter knowledge and the ability to engage with students and parents are also big parts of teaching. "Reporting a single test score can actually be quite misleading."
Jones added that multiple teachers often contribute to students' success, not just one. She said UEA also worries that publishing such information could undermine teacher collaboration.
Patti Harrington, with the Utah School Superintendents Association, also argued against publicly releasing that data, saying all 41 district superintendents voted last week against the idea.
And Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, who sponsored a bill this year that included a ban on the public release of educator evaluation data, also said the board did the right thing. Part of the reason the board tackled the issue Friday was to resolve a possible contradiction between the wording of that new law and an older law that says classroom level achievement data should be released.
"As we look at individual teacher performance data in a vacuum, assumptions can be made that are totally inaccurate," Osmond said, adding that a principal can provide proper context to a parent. Plus, he said, "There really is no precedent in any public or private organization where the performance data of an individual person is made public."
But Judi Clark, executive director of Parents for Choice in Education, said the data should be available to everyone. Greater transparency means greater accountability, she said.
"Obviously, we support parents having access because we want them to be more engaged in their children's educations," Clark said, "but a school and its community is more than just its parents and students."
Stephenson also said Friday that he doesn't believe there is a conflict in the law. But the board voted to possibly try to find a lawmaker willing to run a bill next year to clarify the law.