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Judge Rules City Can Release Teacher Ratings

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(Photo/Tina Fineberg, Associated Press)

(Photo/Tina Fineberg, Associated Press)

NEW YORK (AP) – A judge ruled Monday that New York City can release performance ratings for 12,000 teachers based on a statistical analysis of student test scores.

Justice Cynthia Kern of Manhattan state Supreme Court denied a petition by the United Federation of Teachers to keep the teachers’ names private, saying that releasing the ratings with their names attached would not be arbitrary or capricious under the law.

Union President Michael Mulgrew said it would appeal and would ask the Appellate Division to halt any release of the teacher ratings pending its review of the decision.

Jesse Levine, a lawyer for the city, said officials would await the appeals court’s ruling.

The union’s lawyer, Charles Moerdler, had argued at a Dec. 8 hearing that releasing the data would be an invasion of privacy and would unfairly subject teachers to public ridicule.

But Kern said in her ruling that the courts “have repeatedly held that release of job-performance-related information, even negative information such as that involving misconduct, does not constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy.”

Kern said the public “has an interest in the job performance of public employees, particularly in the field of education.”

At issue are so-called value-added scores for teachers in the third through eighth grades whose students take New York state math and English tests.

The ratings are intended to measure whether a particular teacher’s students scored better or worse than expected on the tests. The city Department of Education uses the data to evaluate teachers’ job performance.

Five media organizations filed Freedom of Information Law requests for the ratings after The Los Angeles Times published similar data for 6,000 Los Angeles teachers in August.

The New York media organizations’ lawyer, David Schulz, praised Kern’s ruling.

“The court recognized the important principal that the public has a legitimate interest in the job performance of public employees, particularly in schools,” Schulz said.

The union argued that the value-added methodology is flawed and is based on standardized tests that were discredited after the state Education Department said they had become too easy to pass.

“The reports, which are largely based on discredited state tests, have huge margins of error and are filled with inaccuracies, will only serve to mislead parents looking for real information,” Mulgrew said.

Kern said she was not passing judgment on the wisdom of releasing the ratings.

“Although the teachers have an interest in these possibly flawed statistics remaining private, it was not arbitrary and capricious for the DOE to find that the privacy interest at issue is outweighed by the public’s interest in disclosure,” she said.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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