Chalkbeat reports on what happened eight years after the Los Angeles Times paid to create a value-added, test-based rating system to evaluate teachers and then published their ratings online.

The bottom line: The rich got richer, and the poor got poorer. And some teachers left teaching.

New research suggests that’s what happened next — but only for certain families.

Publishing the scores meant already high-achieving students were assigned to the classrooms of higher-rated teachers the next year, the study found. That could be because affluent or well-connected parents were able to pull strings to get their kids assigned to those top teachers, or because those teachers pushed to teach the highest-scoring students.

In other words, the academically rich got even richer — an unintended consequence of what could be considered a journalistic experiment in school reform.

“You shine a light on people who are underperforming and the hope is they improve,” said Jonah Rockoff, a professor at Columbia University who has studied these “value-added” measures. “But when you increase transparency, you may actually exacerbate inequality.”

That analysis is one of a number of studies to examine the lasting effects of the L.A. Times’ decision to publish those ratings eight years ago. Together, the results offer a new way of understanding a significant moment in the national debate over how to improve education, when bad teachers were seen as a central problem and more rigorous evaluations as a key solution.

The latest study, by Peter Bergman and Matthew Hill and published last month in the peer-reviewed journal Economics of Education Review, found that the publication of the ratings caused a one-year spike in teacher turnover. That’s not entirely surprising, considering many teachers felt attacked by the public airing of their ratings.

“Guilty as charged,” wrote one teacher with a low rating. “I am proud to be ‘less effective’ than some of my peers because I chose to teach to the emotional and academic needs of my students. In the future it seems I am being asked to put my public image first.”

But a separate study, by Nolan Pope at the University of Maryland, finds the publication of the ratings may have had some positive effects on students, perhaps by encouraging schools to better support struggling teachers.

Pope’s research showed that Los Angeles teachers’ performance, as measured by their value-added scores, improved after their scores were published. The effects were biggest for the teachers whose initial scores were lowest, and there was no evidence that the improvement was due to “teaching to the test.”

“These results suggest the public release of teacher ratings could raise the performance of low-rated teachers,” Pope concluded.

The Los Angeles Times sued to get additional data so it could rank and rate even more teachers based on test scores, but a three-judge appellate court turned the newspaper down. The public did not have a right to know the ratings of individual teachers, the court said.

The distinguished mathematician John Ewing wrote an important paper in the journal of the American Mathematical Society called “Mathematical Intimidation,” in which he thoroughly debunked the Los Angeles Times ratings. He later debunked the “crisis in education” in a speech at Brown University.

The New York Post followed the lead of the Los Angeles Times and published the ratings for thousands of New York City teachers. The Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid identified what it called “the worst teacher” in the city and hounded her, publishing her photo and banging on her apartment door in search of an interview with this terrible teacher.

But another look and it turned out that this teacher taught new immigrant students who cycled in and out of her class all year long. The ratings were meaningless.

Gary Rubinstein reviewed the city’s ratings and found them to be incomprehensible. A teacher might be highly effective in math and ineffective in reading, or vice versa, leaving the choice of which half of him/her should be fired.*

The review of the Los Angeles ratings omitted one consequence that mattered, at least to his family and friends: Roberto Riguelas, a teacher of fifth grade in a rough neighborhood, got a mediocre rating and jumped off a bridge, committing suicide.

Arne Duncan still praises the “courage” of the Los Angeles Times for publicizing the ratings of teachers, no matter how many of those ratings were erroneous and hurtful.

*Here are Gary Rubinstein’s posts about the absurdity of New York City’s value-added ratings. Blog #2 is the most important:

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI