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Newspapers in Calif., Fla. Can Access Teachers' Value-Added Data, Courts Rule

More newspapers are using open-records requests to access teachers' performance information, and courts increasingly seem willing to accept their arguments that releasing such data is in the public interest.

In two new rulings both decided earlier this month, state appeals courts in California and Florida have agreed to grant access to "value-added" information on individual teachers. Such data compares a statistical prediction of how much learning a student was expected to make on tests with how much he or she actually made in a particular teacher's class.

An appeals court in Los Angeles recently upheld an August ruling permitting The Los Angeles Times to access value-added data on individual teachers. The Los Angeles Unified School District had tried to prevent the release of the data. (The information isn't used for teacher evaluations, largely because the local teachers' union has opposed any such use of standardized tests.) Teachers' formal personnel evaluations cannot be released under state law.

The Times started the ball rolling on this whole issue with its 2010 project publishing performance data on teachers. 

In Florida, meanwhile, an appeals court overturned an earlier ruling that sided with the state and against a newspaper that had filed a records request for the value-added data.

Florida law, in fact, explicitly allows for teachers' evaluations to be public after a year's delay. But The Florida Times-Union wanted just the value-added component, and the court ruled that the value-added data is "only one part of a larger spectrum of criteria by which a public school teacher is evaluated; it is not, by itself, the 'employee evaluation.' "

Recently, Education Week published a roundup of states' policies regarding access to teacher evaluations. But if courts are willing to let individuals access some data independently, as is the case in California, or just one components of those evaluations, as is the case in Florida, the story does not end there.

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