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Park Slope Parents Speak Out Against Teacher Evaluations

By DNAinfo Staff on February 27, 2012 1:55pm

UFT President Michael Mulgrew decried teacher evaluations released by the Department of Education outside P.S. 321 in Park Slope
UFT President Michael Mulgrew decried teacher evaluations released by the Department of Education outside P.S. 321 in Park Slope
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DNAinfo/Sonja Sharp

BROOKLYN — Park Slope parents are notoriously picky about everything from their preschools to stroller brands — but when it comes to the controversial teacher evaluations released by the city's Department of Education, many parents at the neighborhood's highest-performing elementary school said they either hadn't bothered to check the scores or didn't put much stock in what they saw. 

"I refuse to look at the scores. I will not be complicit in this witch hunt," Martha Foote, a parent at P.S. 321 on Seventh Avenue, among the city's top elementary schools, said Monday. "The scores are meaningless, and it’s a waste of my time."

The evaluations, released by the city after a protracted legal battle, rated some 18,000 middle school teachers based on how their students performed on standardized English and math tests, compared to how they were projected to score.

Critics such as United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, have pounced on the ratings, which offered an unprecedented glimpse into teacher performance, saying they were statistically irrelevant and "riddled with errors."

"We have unreliable reports, we have bad data inside of them, we have absolutely discredited tests, yet the mayor decided it's okay to release these reports," said Mulgrew, who met with P.S. 321 principal Elizabeth Phillips.

Phillips said she was supporting her teachers, in spite of three below average scores. 

"We have a great school, and without great teachers, you cannot have a great school," Phillips told reporters. "When you’re talking about high-performing children, whether a child gets two questions wrong in third grade and three wrong in fourth grade is completely meaningless and flukey."

Of the 14 teachers who were rated at the school on English and math, there were 14 average ratings, 11 above average and three below average. Teachers can also be rated high and low, the highest and lowest scores, respectively.

Parents and educators around New York said they were shocked to see some educators scoring poorly at the city's most coveted schools, including at P.S. 321, which is widely recognized to be among the very best.

"It’s disheartening to teachers who put their heart and soul into teaching," said fourth grade teacher Simone Frasier, who received average scores on her evaluations.

The scores seemed particularly incongruous in a neighborhood that commands a premium in large part due to its reputation for excellent public schools.

"[P.S. 321] is the main reason I chose to live in this neighborhood," said parent Jeff Jacobs, whose daughter attends second grade at the school. "I hate to see good teachers go just because a couple of kids didn't test well."

Some critics objected to the rankings themselves, saying that teachers with high-performing students were rated below average despite outstanding test scores. Others said they were distraught that individual teachers' scores had been released to the public with little explanation of what they meant.

"I think it's pretty scandalous," said third grade teacher Eileen Carr, 33. "It's a gross mirror on our profession, and I don't think other people would put up with it."

But while some rejected the scores out of hand, others said they supported efforts to make the school system more transparent, and to hold teachers more accountable to the public they serve.

"I get evaluated every year, so I'm not entirely against the concept," said mom Charnora Simon-Tavares, who works with the blind and said she undergoes an evaluation each year at her work. She said she would look at the scores for her daughter Kennedy's fifth grade teacher's score, but added, "I wouldn't hold Kennedy's teacher's score against her."