Report Cards for Teachers Test Nerves in L.A.

Teacher in classroom students
The following report is part of CBS News' new series on education: Reading, Writing and Reform.

A group of teaches demonstrating in Los Angeles feel picked on, singled out and accused of not being good enough, reports CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy.

"When did we become the bad guys?" asked Connie Ordway, a Los Angeles elementary teacher. "When did we become the ones that we diss, that we hate, that we witch hunt?"

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Ordway teaches fifth grade. She and her colleagues are furious with the Los Angeles Times.

The paper created a searchable database, using school district data, ranking teachers from best to worst. Ordway was branded a "least effective" teacher.

Ordway's feelings were hurt when she first saw the rankings.

"You want to be seen as an effective teacher," said Connie.

The so-called value-added analysis is a controversial approach to grading teachers. It takes each student's standardized test score from one year and compares it to the next. If the score goes dup, the teacher is considered effective. If it goes down, the teacher's ranking goes down.

Yet critics say test scores don't tell the whole story.

"Typically, you're just measuring the progress in English and in math - not of any of the other subjects, and not in any of the other kinds of things that we might hope teachers will impart to kids," said Daniel Willingham, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia.

Most teachers are evaluated right now by standing in front of the class and teaching. The principal sits at the back and watches, and then fills out a form. One study found 99 percent of teachers are rated "good" or "great" even in schools were most students are failing, according to the New Teacher Project.

"If you really want to have a meaningful evaluation with a teacher," said Arne Duncan, U.S. secretary of education, "part of what you need to look at is how much are their students learning each year. I think that's basically common sense."

Duncan says Washington D.C.'s revamped teacher evaluations could become a national model.

Half is based on student test scores, 40 percent classroom observation, five percent, the school's overall performance and five percent for the teacher's contribution to the school community.

We do know teachers matter. When under-performing students were assigned to an "effective" teacher three years in a row, 90 percent of them passed their standardized test. But when students had an "ineffective" teacher for three years, only 42 percent passed.

Back in Los Angeles, Claudia Trevisan's daughter just started third grade. CBS' cameras rolled as she looked up her school's teachers on the Los Angeles Times' site. Trevisan isn't nervous.

"I'm more excited," said Trevisan. "I think our teachers have done really well."

In fact, four of the teachers listed were rated below average even the school was rated above average.

"If it makes teachers more accountable and want to do a better job, then that's better for our kids," said Trevisan.

Because most teachers don't want to fail their students.