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Utah company should pay a price for failing to score Buffalo teacher evaluations correctly

Some things should be firing offenses. One of them is getting scores wrong on more than 1,000 teacher evaluations, especially when those scores can affect a teacher’s career. The Buffalo School District should penalize the Utah company that flubbed this important assignment, perhaps by dumping it.

Truenorthlogic miscalculated the scores for 1,089 Buffalo teachers and while it forthrightly acknowledged the mistake once it confirmed the error, its leaders didn’t know about the mistake until Buffalo school officials told them. And Buffalo school officials wouldn’t have known unless a teacher hadn’t manually calculated her own score and found that, despite Truenorthlogic’s calculations to the contrary, she had in fact met her performance targets.

Forgivable? No. Teacher evaluations are a toxic subject in New York, partly because they are linked to job security, partly because the statewide teachers union has worked to undermine them along with the Common Core standards.

Whatever the reason, any company paid to provide this service to any school district in New York – and especially Buffalo’s – needs to be sure to get it right. Not almost right, or pretty close to right. Just right – perfectly, exactly right.

According to Truenorthlogic, the error affected instructors who teach more than one grade level or subject and who are required to meet multiple sets of student learning objectives. The company had rewritten its scoring formula to produce scores more rapidly, but inadvertently wrote in the error for this group of teachers.

Mistakes can happen, of course. NASA famously crashed a $125 million orbiter into Mars because one engineering team made calculations using metric units while the other did so with English units. Boom. End of mission. Forgivable?

But a NASA leader put his finger on the real problem: “The problem here was not the error,” Edward Weiler said in a written statement, “it was the failure of NASA’s systems engineering, and the checks and balances in our processes to detect the error. That’s why we lost the spacecraft.”

Exactly right. Why didn’t Truenorthlogic test its formulas for accuracy before it risked scaring the living daylights out of 1,089 Buffalo school teachers? Carpenters know the rule: Measure twice, cut once.

Here’s what should happen: Either the Buffalo School District should sever ties with Truenorthlogic or it should insist on significant compensation that goes directly to each teacher affected. And even then, the district should insist on including performance standards so that Truenorthlogic, or whoever might succeed the company, knows that 100 percent accuracy is expected, and what the price will be for failure.