Do-or-die time for teacher evaluation bill

After lying dormant for a year, a bill to overhaul the state’s teacher evaluation law will resurface Monday, subject to continuing negotiations over its cost and some disagreements over its content.

AB 5 author Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes

AB 5 author Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes

AB 5’s prospects have improved with the support of the California Teachers Association. CTA expressed reservations a year ago, but the bill’s author, Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes, a Democrat from the San Fernando Valley, agreed last summer to a few key changes, so now the union favors it, CTA lobbyist Patricia Rucker said this week. One amendment would require training administrators to do uniform and knowledgeable evaluations.

The bill, which would require that all districts evaluate every teacher based on a set of attributes and practices outlined in the bill, is similar to an evaluation framework that the union adopted earlier this year, Rucker said. AB 5, she said, “is a clear and good policy document.”

A Superior Court decision with statewide implications earlier this year may also be prompting CTA’s support of AB 5. In June, Judge James Chalfant ruled in a lawsuit brought by a half-dozen Los Angeles Unified parents that the current evaluation law, known as the Stull Act, requires school districts to use student scores on state standardized tests as a measure of teacher effectiveness. CTA and United Teachers Los Angeles have fought tying evaluations to scores on the California Standards Tests, or CSTs, to any extent, aguing they were not written for that purpose. AB 5, by permitting but not requiring districts to use state test scores as a measure of student progress, would undermine Chalfant’s ruling. (Whether his ruling would still apply to Los Angeles Unified may depend on when AB 5 goes into effect.)

Rucker said that the CSTs are scheduled to be replaced by assessments aligned to the new Common Core standards, and it’s premature to determine whether those tests would be suitable for teacher evaluations. So the issue of tying state tests to AB 5 is overblown, she said.

Nonetheless, the failure of AB 5 to require that evaluations incorporate objective data from student assessments to a significant degree is one of several criticisms of the bill raised by student advocacy groups, including Public Advocates, Education Trust-West, EdVoice (which underwrote the Stull Act challenge against Los Angeles Unified), and StudentsFirst, the Sacramento-based organization created by former Washington, D.C., superintendent Michelle Rhee. StudentsFirst detailed its reservations in a letter this week to Christine Kehoe, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Focus on costs of state mandate

Fuentes spokesman Ben Golombek declined to say whether Fuentes remains open to further changing the bill, which was last amended in June 2011, but the attention now is on “looking at ways to reduce cost pressures the  bill creates.” Rick Simpson, deputy chief of staff for Assembly Speaker John Perez, agreed that’s where the focus is. The bill will be heard at 11 a.m. Monday before Senate Appropriations, which is then expected to put it on hold, while legislative leaders figure out how much new money should be allotted to which of hundreds of bills before them.

The four decade-old Stull Act pre-dated the requirement that the state reimburse local governments for mandated programs, so districts are responsible for most of the costs of doing teacher evaluations. AB 5 would create new responsibilities for school districts, so the state would be on the hook, at a minimum, for reimbursing districts for training administrators to do observations, the time spent in the multiple observations and pre- and post-meetings with teachers to discuss findings and set goals for improvement. AB 5 would cost the state tens of millions of dollars, according to Simpson; how much will be better known Monday, when a fiscal analysis is available.

As currently written, AB 5 wouldn’t go into effect for at least seven years – until the state has totally repaid school districts for money owed to them from budget cuts and missed annual cost adjustments defined in Proposition 98. That amount, known as the deficit factor, is now over $10 billion. So the challenge is to reduce the costs of the mandate and enact it sooner – though Simpson wouldn’t describe the ideas being discussed.

Measuring against model standards of practice

Fuentes has said that the strength of his bill would be to use evaluations as a tool to improve the teaching skills and techniques of the vast majority of teachers, instead of focusing exclusively on weeding out an unsatisfactory 5 percent. To that end, it requires districts to develop standards like the half-dozen detailed in California Standards for the Teaching Profession. They include:

  • Engaging and supporting all pupils in learning, including setting high expectations;
  • Creating and maintaining “effective environments for pupil learning, to the extent that those environments are within the teacher’s control”;
  • Understanding and organizing subject matter for pupil learning, evidenced by knowledge of content standards and “curriculum competence”;
  • Planning instruction and designing learning experiences for all pupils, such as using differentiated instruction and multicultural information;
  • Using pupil assessment information to inform instruction and to improve learning;
  • Developing as a professional educator, including building good relationships with parents and students and working collaboratively with other teachers.

The bill adds a seventh standard: “Contributing to pupil academic growth based upon multiple measures, which may include, but are not limited to, classroom work, local and state academic assessments, and pupil grades, classroom participation, presentations and performances, and projects and portfolios.”

Objections and recommendations

Groups like Education Trust-West and EdVoice praise the use of the California standards as the basis for evaluations, but they argue that without requiring objective data – student test results – evaluations could be based on softer measures that wouldn’t get to the bottom of how much students and student subgroups, from gifted students to English learners, are actually learning.

Among their other criticisms:

  • Lack of parental participation. Public Advocates in particular is calling for a clear role for parents in teacher evaluations, both in setting criteria that districts will use and in the use of student and teacher surveys. Rucker said teachers would be concerned about breaches of confidentiality.
  • Erosion of school board authority. Under AB 5, all aspects of evaluations would be subject to bargaining with local teachers unions. Los Angeles Unified, which is moving ahead with a new teacher evaluation system, has taken the position that it has the authority under the Stull Act to set the criteria for evaluations and the weights given to various factors. Groups like EdTrust-West argue that’s how it should be under AB 5 as well.
  • Multi-tier rating system. The Stull Act requires only a pass-fail system. As a result, in most districts between 95 and 98 percent of teachers receive satisfactory ratings, rendering moot talk of improvement. Whether it’s Superlative, Good, Fair, and Poor or Meets All, Most, Some, or Rarely Any Expectations, evaluation systems generally have several categories, with plans for improvement required. AB 5 is silent on this issue. Rick Simpson, a former trustee of the Sacramento County Office of Education, said it should left to districts, through negotiations, to determine rating categories.
  • Tying evaluations to dismissals. AB 5 doesn’t spell out what happens after teachers receive an unsatisfactory rating. Should there be a one- or two-year period in which they’re given help in improving? Advocates say so; Simpson says this issue goes beyond a teacher evaluation bill and gets into personnel law.


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9 Responses to “Do-or-die time for teacher evaluation bill”

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  1. Frances O'Neill Zimmerman on Aug 13, 2012 at 10:28 pm08/13/2012 10:28 pm

    • 000

    El, I don’t get your point. Teachers unions no longer can be the arbiter for establishing sound programs for teacher evaluations. Historically, unions were instrumental in determining the lax provisions of the low-level CBEST entry exam, the meaningless Stull Act evaluations and the protracted union-dominated processes for appeal of dismissal. If you’re saying that legislators are not any better at this task, I would agree, since they are mostly Democratic politicians beholden to the teachers union for campaign money.

    Whatever happened to the notion of some kind of Blue Ribbon Commission of knowledgeable people who care about public schools and the education of our State’s children, to be appointed by this old Governor with nothing to lose and a lot to gain this time around from making one genuine education reform? The Governor could name people with standing in their own endeavors, who know what it means to be educated as well as to have common sense, who could develop the questions to be asked and could find good answers, and he could give them true authority to rewrite the rules. The people of California — including most teachers — would be thrilled at the ensuing professionalization of teaching.

  2. el on Aug 12, 2012 at 5:22 pm08/12/2012 5:22 pm

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    @Frances, isn’t it at least as ridiculous to have teacher evaluations micromanaged by legislators who have never taught or even been inside a public school classroom during their adult lives?

    In my workplaces, having terrible coworkers is, well, terrible. I think it’s reasonable to suspect teachers as a whole feel the same way.

  3. Frances O'Neill Zimmerman on Aug 10, 2012 at 8:24 pm08/10/2012 8:24 pm

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    If the goal of California public education is to have students learn material based on state academic standards, we obviously must have competent instructors who are periodically evaluated. If AB 5 is to help us achieve that goal, yet “all aspects of teacher evaluations are subject to bargaining with teachers’ unions,” then AB 5 is a non-starter and equivalent to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Back to the drawing board. It’s amazing that legislation like this makes it out of committee and warrants serious conversation.

  4. navigio on Aug 10, 2012 at 8:59 am08/10/2012 8:59 am

    • 000

    So there is something I’ve always wondered about. CSTs were not designed to measure teacher influence but some claim that information from them can be used to do that. How valid is that claim? It seems it would imply its possible to remove all other influences on results in a way thats equivalent to having a measure thats specifically designed that way. Regardless of one’s ‘side’ in the evaluation debate, is that a realistic approach?

    Its interesting that the Stull act predates the CSTs but still applies to them. You’d think they would have included some text to make sure only appropriate measures would be used.. oh wait.. 😉


    • John Fensterwald on Aug 10, 2012 at 9:20 am08/10/2012 9:20 am

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      Navigio: Including the use of state standardized tests as a measure of student progress was a 1999 amendment to the Stull Act through a bill authored by then Assembly Speaker, now Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. As a post-1975 amendment, it is one of the few areas covered through the mandate reimbursement. Few if any districts have sought reimbursement, indicating they didn’t include student results in teacher evaluations, which is what got EdVoice interested in its LAUSD lawsuit.

      The CSTs weren’t designed with teacher evaluations in mind. I wonder if any district tests are. But does that mean they should not be included as one of many factors used to measure student progress? I understand that there are supposed to be studies of the forthcoming Common Core assessments to see if they’re valid for use in teacher evaluations. That was one of the conditions attached to the federal Department of Education contracts to design the new tests.

      • el on Aug 10, 2012 at 11:02 am08/10/2012 11:02 am

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        John: If my daughter walks into 4th grade already knowing all the 4th grade material well enough to score proficient, the teacher will get credit even though she had nothing to do with that knowledge accumulation. Similarly, if during the 4th grade we lose our jobs and end up couch surfing for a year and she’s stressed and worried and scores low, the teacher would be blamed. If my daughter comes in at a 2nd grade level and only gets to the 3rd grade level, progress was made but the teacher gets no credit.

        If we want to give tests to students to evaluate teachers and teaching, why don’t we design some?

        CSTs are interesting as part of a teacher portfolio, in the same way that admiring the bulletin boards in the classroom are part of the portfolio. Not definitive, but a place to use to ask questions.

        The problem is that people want measures of teachers at arms’ length that allow them to compare a teacher in Sacramento with a teacher in Marin even though no one person has met both teachers or their students.

        • CarolineSF on Aug 10, 2012 at 12:28 pm08/10/2012 12:28 pm

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          Yes, and the “people” who want this are invariably non-educators and people who have no real-life contact with public schools, especially high-poverty public schools.

          The problem is that people want measures of teachers at arms’ length that allow them to compare a teacher in Sacramento with a teacher in Marin even though no one person has met both teachers or their students.

          • el on Aug 10, 2012 at 1:14 pm08/10/2012 1:14 pm

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            They’re afraid walking into a high poverty school might make them sad, I guess.

      • navigio on Aug 10, 2012 at 2:00 pm08/10/2012 2:00 pm

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        thanks john. even when added as an amendment, it should have been contingent on relevance. and actually, my last sentence was tongue-in-cheek, since that word does show up in the stull act. :-)

        you ask whether it means they shouldnt be used to measure student progress. perhaps, but that is different than measuring student progress as impacted solely by a teacher. I guess if we really thought CSTs were meaningful for student progress, maybe we should use them as a measure for grade promotion. Proficient and above, move on to next grade. Below, stay till you get proficient. The answer to why we dont currently do this is probably related to why it might be problematic to use them to grade teachers. ?

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