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Court Sides With Teacher in N.Y. Evaluation-Rating Lawsuit

A New York state court has sided with a teacher who challenged the student-achievement component of her teacher evaluation.

Shari Lederman filed the lawsuit after she received the lowest possible score on the student-growth portion of her evaluation—just a year after receiving a high score. (Though deemed ineffective on this portion, she got an overall rating of "effective".) She argued that the methodology used to assign the growth rating was opaque and that it was impossible to know how to earn the maximum number of points. 

The state, on the other hand, said Lederman's students didn't make as much academic growth as similarly situated students taught by other teachers.

A number of scholars submitted affidavits on Lederman's behalf, arguing that the state formula, based on just one year of test-score gains, was flawed and irrational, and didn't appropriately control for student demographics or ability levels.

Of these, one name stands out in particular: Linda Darling Hammond, who is the odds-on favorite to become the U.S. Secretary of Education should Hillary Clinton be elected the 45th president of the United States.

The trial court judge, Roger D. McDonough, ruled that Lederman had met the burden of proof to show that her evaluation was arbitrary and capricious. Her 2013-14 growth score will be struck from state records. 

Although this appears to be the first time a court has sided with a teacher, not a school system in a legal battle over teacher-evaluation methods, the decision isn't all that far reaching. That's because McDonough declined to completely throw out the state growth method, as Lederman requested. Instead, he wrote that the state's recent changes to its evaluation regulations, including the suspension of the use of state test scores in teacher evaluation for four years, rendered the issue moot. 

(Nitpicky aside: Much of the court filings refer to New York as using "value added" measures, but the state actually uses "student growth percentiles." The difference is pretty wonky, but the two approaches have rather different technical properties.) 


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