The LA Times earned a vindication of sorts, after it was announced last Friday the paper won the IRE‘s “Philip Meyer Award” for its controversial story on “value-added” ratings for Los Angeles teachers–in which the Times published an index of teachers’ scores on its website. A short time after the story broke and teacher scores were posted, a low-scoring South Gate elementary school teacher named Rigoberto Ruelas committed suicide. United Teachers Los Angeles president A.J. Duffy was quick to blame the Times for Ruelas’ death, citing journalistic irresponsibility in publishing Ruelas’ score.
The judges, obviously, weren’t buying it. Here’s what they had to say:
“Grading the Teachers” is a first-rate example of strong watchdog story-telling combined with innovative use of social science methods. Indeed, the point of the project was the failure of Los Angeles school officials to use effective methods to measure the performance of classroom teachers. The Los Angeles Times, applying a method called gain-score analysis to a huge database of individual students’ test scores and their teachers, identified the most and least effective teachers based on how much the students’ scores improved. The Times hired a national expert in gain-score analysis to do the data crunching, adding credibility to the results, but also did additional statistical analysis to identify high- and low-performing schools and otherwise verify their findings. In identifying and rating 6,000 teachers by name, the Times outraged the teachers’ union, but the series has prompted district officials to begin negotiating with the union to use the gain-score method in evaluations. Another sign of the impact of this series is that newspapers across the country have begun requesting similar data from local school districts.