Teacher Names Linked to Test Scores Ruled Exempt From Public Disclosure
August 25, 2014 by Margaret Geddes & Christopher Hammer
Standardized testing in education is a contentious issue. Proponents of testing argue that it is necessary for evaluating both student and teacher performance. Opponents believe testing forces teachers to “teach to the test” which only impedes the educational process. Regardless of the strengths of arguments on both sides of the debate, standardized testing remains part of our current educational system. The case summarized below by attorneys at Beeson, Tayer and Bodine (BT&B) addresses the question of what should student test scores be used and the balance between effective functioning of the District and parents seeking to get their individual student into classes taught by the teachers with the best test score results.
A California Court of Appeal recently addressed this question on appeal from a lower court ruling that had granted the petition of the L.A. Times to compel the L.A. Unified School District, pursuant to California’s Public Records Act (CPRA), to disclose the names of its teachers linked to their students’ test scores (Los Angeles Unified School District v. Superior Court.) The District and its teachers’ union, United Teachers of Los Angeles/CTA/NEA (UTLA) appealed the decision. The District’s specific usage of teachers’ “AGT scores,” which were based on their students’ scores under a value-added scoring methodology, had been negotiated between the District and UTLA. Their agreement provided that the AGT scoring reports linked to individual teachers would be treated as confidential personnel records, and that the District would defend that principal in court if necessary.
After balancing the competing public interests, the Appeals Court decided on the facts presented that the names of LAUSD teachers tied to test results are exempt from public disclosure. However, the Court explicitly left open the question of whether, under different circumstances, unredacted teacher AGT scores might be subject to disclosure pursuant to CPRA.
The CPRA is intended to open government action to the light of public review so that an agency can be held accountable for its activities. One category of records that need not be disclosed pursuant to CPRA is records for which the public interest served by not disclosing the information clearly outweighs the public’s interest in disclosure. The Court applied this CPRA “catch-all” exemption and found that the District had presented compelling arguments that the public interest is better served by nondisclosure of teacher names linked to scores because releasing this information would be detrimental to the functioning of the District. The District presented evidence that disclosure of the AGT test scores linked to teachers’ identities would have a negative effect on recruitment and retention of teachers, disrupt a balanced assignment of the teaching staff essential to the operations of the District as parents battle for teachers with the highest scores for their children, and generate unhealthy comparisons among teachers and discord in the workplace.
The L.A. Times argued that the disclosure of teacher names linked to test scores furthered parents’ interest in the effectiveness of the teachers to whom their child is, or may be, assigned. However, the Court found that any hypothetical interest of individual parents in having such a tool to assist them in getting their child into classes with the highest scoring teachers does not help the public better understand the workings of the District. In other words, the Court found that the interest in having one’s child get the best teacher is a private interest, not a public one, and is clearly outweighed by the District’s need to function effectively. Because the District already discloses student test scores grouped by school, grade, subject, sociodemographics, and teachers (without their names), the Court concluded the public already has access to sufficient information to satisfy the legitimate public interest in the District’s performance.
While the California Court of Appeals decided this case on the basis of public interest, there is another issue that arises that we at BT&B would like to highlight. We are dedicated to protecting the rights of employees who are working under a collective bargaining agreement that covers items of confidentiality such as personnel records. There is legal precedence in this area that upholds the right to confidentiality. Our education and labor law practice has summarized and litigated many of these issues and suggest that you review additional cases at our legal blog or Follow us on Twitter for updates.
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