Boston Denies Request to Make Teacher Assessments Public

Officials at the Boston School Department are not planning to release overall teacher ratings to the public, writes James Vaznis for the Boston Globe. The response comes after the Globe requested the information based on the new teacher assessment system being used for the first time this year.

According to Vaznis, the district refused to turn over the data even though it would not include anything that would make it possible to identify individual teachers. Likewise, officials turned down a request for rating information on the district’s 130 principals, headmasters and high-level school administrators.

The district’s rationale for denying the freedom of information request is that the ratings are part of staff personnel files and therefore do not fall in the category covered by the FOI laws.

They further argued that even the release of school-by-school teacher ratings and district-wide administrator ratings would run the risk of revealing the performance of a specific employee.

“Exempting such information from disclosure serves to protect the Boston Public Schools’ ability to function effectively as an employer,” Lee McGuire, a School Department spokesman, wrote in an e-mail.

The Globe will appeal the decision to the Secretary of State’s Office, which oversees enforcement of the state’s public records law.

Turning over information on teacher performance is clearly in the public interest, especially in light of recent changes that will have more Boston parents sending their kids to schools in their local area. The new school assignment system has raised concerns that families in low-income neighborhoods might be locked out of better performing schools elsewhere in the city.

Withholding teacher performance data means that parents have only half the story when it comes to evaluating their children’s school — and the secrecy stifles debate on how big a role teachers play in their students’ success.

The evaluation data could shed new insight, putting a spotlight on the performance of educators.

“Students and parents are very interested in knowing how teachers and principals are performing,” said Kim Janey, senior project director for Massachusetts Advocates for Children, a Boston nonprofit that has closely monitored Boston’s change in student assignment. “If teachers are performing well, isn’t this something we would want to share?”

Janey said she supports releasing evaluation data only for overall performance of teachers at a school or administrators across the district, and keeping ratings for individuals private.