Back in my own journalism class, I decided to walk through some of the teacher data online to see what we could learn. World Journalism Preparatory High School, in Flushing Queens popped up on the screen, a small, energetic 6th through 12th grade school that my students have become very familiar with since it opened in 2006. The DOE gave it a “B” grade this year on its controversial School Report Cards, and past years’ numbers have shown steady improvement. Its’ graduation rate is better than the average high school’s; its’ Regents English scores are above average. But the teachers? According to the clumsy measures, they ranked among the very worst in the city. Of course, it was hardly possible that all the children were teaching themselves.

Principal Cynthia Schneider has learned to ignore these spreadsheets over the last three years. “It’s not good data. It’s bad data, and we know it,” she said. “We know what we’re doing here.” The school had to send only eight kids to summer school last year to catch up, she said. The high school is ranked number 41 in the city. Still, her students and teachers suffered the indignity of a front-page article in the hyperlocal Whitestone Times—a photo of the school, plus the poor teacher rankings. Reporters did not call her for comment.

“I’m all about trying to get a handle on matching student achievement to teacher effectiveness. That’s a good thing,” said Schneider. “But that’s not what this does. At all.”

The data? Clear as mud. And now just about everybody in New York and beyond knows it.

If you'd like to get email from CJR writers and editors, add your email address to our newsletter roll and we'll be in touch.

LynNell Hancock is the H. Gordon Garbedian Professor of Journalism at Columbia, and director of the school's Spencer Fellowship in Education Journalism.