Liz Guillen

Liz Guillen

On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee will decide the fate of AB 5, a long overdue legislative proposal to reform California’s dysfunctional teacher evaluation system. Unless significant amendments are added to include the voices of students and parents in the development and implementation of this new system, the proposal risks losing the support of the critical constituency it is meant to benefit: students and families served by California’s teachers.

We are pushing for these amendments as advocates and representatives of parents and students across California. PICO California is composed of 19 congregation-based community organizations representing 450,000 families in 48 school districts, from Los Angeles and San Francisco to Stockton and San Bernardino. We believe that those most directly affected by

James Hopkins

James Hopkins

effective or ineffective teaching, the students and their families, have knowledge that is critically important, and should be included as full partners in the teacher evaluation process. We are joined in this effort by the Campaign for Quality Education, a statewide alliance of grassroots, civil rights, policy, and research organizations committed to educational equity for all communities served by California’s public schools.

AB 5 would require school districts to adopt and implement a teacher evaluation system grounded in best practices. It would also require that teachers be evaluated based on evidence of student academic growth (using multiple measures) and evidence of effective teaching practice (as measured through multiple classroom observations by trained evaluators). The bill sets defined parameters for what a local teacher evaluation system must include, but is purposely designed to allow districts to experiment and pilot different systems, much as Los Angeles Unified is doing.

Students and parents: An essential link

The problem with the current proposal is that it excludes the voices of students and parents from the conversation. We believe AB 5 should require each school district to involve parents and students in developing its teacher evaluation system and use their feedback as one of the multiple measures used for evaluation.

This seems intuitive. After all, feedback from clients or customers is a common practice in today’s world, broadly recognized as essential to providing better service. College students provide feedback on their professors, patients on their doctors, buyers on online retailers, and customers on restaurant wait-staff. Shouldn’t schools similarly consult the students and their families directly served by a teacher when that teacher’s effectiveness is being evaluated?

Research supports this common-sense notion. The Gates Foundation-funded Measures of Effective Teaching Project studied classroom observations, student surveys, and standardized tests for 3,000 teachers in six regions. It concluded that students know good teaching when they see it and, when asked the right questions, can provide meaningful data on teacher effectiveness. Especially when combined with standards-based classroom observations by trained and calibrated evaluators and evidence of student achievement gains, student surveys can be a powerful tool for measuring teacher effectiveness that provides immediate, useful feedback to teachers – one that is cost-effective and available for all subject areas (unlike standardized tests).

Some teachers union leaders have expressed concerns about the confidentiality of these surveys. But there are ways to ensure that student feedback is kept confidential so it fosters the necessary candid responses. And there is no disagreement that confidential personnel matters, including evaluation results, should continue to remain confidential under any new evaluation system.

Learning from others

California would not be the first state to give students and parents a voice in the teacher evaluation process. Alaska has required input from students and parents since 1996, with many other states following suit. Georgia piloted the use of student surveys during the 2011-12 school year. Idaho requires that teacher evaluations incorporate parent input. Massachusetts will require that evaluations include student feedback beginning in 2013-14, and is currently studying the feasibility of including parent feedback. Iowa requires both parent and student input into the teacher evaluation process.

Nor would including student and parent feedback be an entirely new practice in California. As part of the pilot of its new teacher evaluation system, Los Angeles Unified School District administered student stakeholder feedback surveys in grade 4-12 classrooms of participating teachers. The Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District uses student surveys as part of the evaluation process for non-tenured teachers.

 Fostering a local dialogue

Opponents of AB 5 express concern that some aspects of a district’s teacher evaluation system would be locally bargained, fearing this would create an opening for strong local unions to seek a toothless system. We disagree. AB 5 properly balances requiring key elements – like having the system be based on both evidence of student learning and good teaching practice – with a recognition that teachers must take ownership of their evaluation system if they are going to put stock in its results and support the consequences.

In the same way, parents and students should also be included in a public process of designing and implementing a local teacher evaluation system. As with teachers, their support is critical to the legitimacy, sustainability, and effectiveness of the new system. They will be the ones holding both the district and the union accountable for results.

Certainly each school district’s final agreement on a new evaluation system will be locally bargained between the district and teachers union. We propose a three-part process of including parents, students, and the community in this process.

  1. Before the district’s and union’s negotiation begins, the school board should establish an advisory committee of community stakeholders to review best practices in teacher evaluation and make recommendations to the board.
  2. The school board should receive public comment and input concerning these advisory committee recommendations.
  3. After the negotiation between the district and the union, the board should publish the draft of what’s being considered and take public comment so it has the community’s feedback before the board makes its final decision on the contract.These modest safeguards to gather student, parent, and community input would in no way infringe upon the collective bargaining process.

Additional hurdles

To be sure, AB 5 faces other hurdles as well. Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes has acknowledged that finding $21.5 million to fund the system of best practices he envisions will be a challenge. And there remains considerable disagreement about what role students’ standardized test scores should play in any evaluation system. Some education reform groups have pressed for “objective measures” like standardized tests to comprise 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. But while evidence of student learning should be included as a significant factor in a teacher’s evaluation, we believe that student learning should be measured based on multiple sources of evidence capable of measuring the full spectrum of learning, from student work products, final portfolios and exhibitions, to district assessments, to state or national standardized tests (provided they are valid and appropriate for the students and curriculum being taught). AB 5 does just that.

California desperately needs a new teacher evaluation system that can meet the dual goals of supporting all teachers in continually improving their practice while also identifying ineffective teachers for remediation and, if necessary, dismissal. We admire Fuentes for leading this policy debate, and seeking to include many stakeholders. And we think it is on the right track. But unless the final legislation guarantees students and parents will have a voice in the process, we will not support it.

Liz Guillen is Director of Legislative & Community Affairs at Public Advocates Inc., a nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization that challenges the systemic causes of poverty and racial discrimination by strengthening community voices in public policy. The Rev. Dr. H. James Hopkins is the pastor of Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church and the Oakland representative to the PICO National Clergy Caucus. He has been deeply involved in passing a local policy that puts decision making over budget, hiring, curriculum, and schedule into the hands of parents and educators at the school site.


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  1. Thanks Liz for this. I hope that California passes AB 5. The voices of students and parents must be heard in the classroom. In Boston we have already seen the benefits of student feedback and we look forward to statewide implementation. This is not an easy process, but student to teacher feedback is a critical component of getting a 360 degree picture of what is happening in the classroom.

  2. el says:

    I expect smaller districts would choose to team together via county offices of education, and then maybe modify to meet their own needs.

  3. Mike McMahon says:

    There are over 900 school boards in the state of California varying size from 50 students to 600,000 students. Why should every school district have to create an advisory committee on best practices? All of the factors impacting effectiveness of best practices should be applicable to broader groupings of schools than school districts. Why not have the 50+ counties offices of education be the maximum number of advisory committees?

  4. Manuel says:

    @Bill: you often shared a story about a meeting of educators you once witnessed. In that meeting, these seasoned professionals viewed a video of a lesson taught by a teacher. After the video ended, the facilitator, you tell, asked from the assembled, via a show of hands, what “grade” the teacher in the video should get for her teaching. The results were all over the place. Imagine the results you would have gotten if the students in the video had been asked for their opinion on the teacher’s effectiveness. It would have been equally all over the place. Worse, if any of those students had an axe to grind, you can bet that the responses would have been all over the place. (Full disclosure: I once taught the two lab sections of a college class. One session deemed me useless while the other one judged me excellent. Guess what the classroom dynamics were. Also, I knew this college professor who was a lousy teacher, yet his evaluations were stellar. Why, you may ask? He coddled his students and inflated their grades, so how could they give him a bad evaluation?)

    Clearly, without appropriate training and lots of ethical guidance, students will never be able to judge whether a teacher is effective. And if administrators start using whatever evaluation emerges from this process to determine employment qualifications, you can bet that this will lead to horrendous abuses or to even more lackadaisical administrative evaluation. Good usage of this surveys will be more the exception than the rule, in my opinion.

    As for the usage of CST scores, well, you know where I stand: they are essentially useless to determine whether or not true learning has taken place. They can be used to make comparisons among schools but they simply fail as a measure of proficiency.

    We don’t live in a perfect world, you know.

  5. Thanks for the insights, Liz and Rev. Hopkins.

    As a member of the Campaign for Quality Education alliance, I have to be transparent about my support for the inclusion of student and parent feedback in the multiple measures used to evaluate effective teaching and for parents and students as stakeholders in the process of developing the new “Best Practices” teacher evaluation systems proposed in AB 5.

    I’m also invested in this concept as a parent of an LAUSD student and the spouse of an LAUSD high school Social Studies teacher. I think the opportunity that could be provided by an amended version of AB 5 to bring together progressive educators (including teachers and district leaders), parents, students, and other stakeholders to develop a system to evaluate and support effective teaching is one of the most promising for advancing much-touted “education reform.” Having witnessed the unfortunate battle lines that have been drawn around school “reconstitutions” and massive lay-offs, I’m hopeful that the debate around creating a more effective teacher evaluation system in California won’t be another missed opportunity to create a broader alliance among teachers, parents, and students to advance reforms that benefit and empower educators and students alike.

    I’ve also been able to witness the excitement of young teachers in developing a multiple measures based teacher evaluation system on the ground. This past February, I was privileged to attend a session about a teacher-driven Professional Learning Plan process given by two teachers at the Social Justice Schools Conference at UCLA Community School where my daughter attends first grade. The Professional Learning Plan serves as a way for teachers to set goals for themselves and students, link those goals to multiple measures and an evaluation process, and collect and analyze the evaluation data. The two elementary school teachers stressed the importance of engaging parents and students in the evaluation process and UCLA Community School is piloting the use of student surveys to gather feedback data in several grade levels. (UCLA’s policy brief on the school’s story and multiple measures of good teaching can be downloaded at http://centerx.gseis.ucla.edu/xchange-repository/images-and-media/center-x-research-practice-policy-brief-web.pdf.)

    If amended and signed into law, AB 5 could open the door for other schools and districts to learn from and tailor the UCLA Community School evaluation approach to meet both teachers’ and students’ needs.

  6. Mary says:

    I am interested in what others think of the proposal for parents and community members to help set the priorities for new, locally negotiated, teacher evaluation systems, and also what others think about student surveys being included as one of the multiple measures of teacher effectiveness…in other words the content of what PICO and Public Advocates are recommending. I think these are ideas make a lot of sense. Do others agree or disagree?

  7. el says:

    I think the kickoff article in Newsweek for Students First with Michelle Rhee standing in front of a bunch of chalk outlines of kids (unintentionally) said it all.

  8. TransParent® says:

    Thanks for the link, Liz. As someone who participated in LAUSD’s Teacher Effectiveness Task Force and on Senator Liu’s Roundtable on Teacher and District Effectiveness, I have long held that parents and students have a role in the evaluation of employees, particularly teachers and administrators. It seems to me that we have been spending a lot of energy arguing about evaluation before we agree on what we VALUE – lots of heat, very little light.

    Bill

    Bill Ring
    TransParent®
    http://www.parentsacrossamerica.org

  9. Bea says:

    I would be interested in hearing from StudentsFirst on the issues raised in this piece. They are opposing the bill because of the local control factors. Or at least, we can assume that their opposition is rooted in the Ed Voice analysis against the bill. StudentsFirst doesn’t define *why* they oppose the bill, they just want their many “members” to write to their legislators.

    Local input in our schools is a fuzzy zone for education reformers. On paper, they support things like the Parent Trigger, but argue against modifying the law to include town hall discussions before pulling the trigger and mandated parent participation post-trigger. Reformers generally align with limiting the power of, or eliminating altogether, local elected school boards.

    I would be curious to hear what a supposedly student-focused organization has to say about including the voices of parents and students in teacher evaluations even if it means reducing the weight of student test scores. Might show us just what the emperor is wearing…

    1. navigio says:

      Those are great points Bea. Personally, I dont think SF is interested in students having an actual voice, rather they are interested in policies being driven by what they say impacts student learning as measured by standardized test scores. Here is a sentence from their call to rally against AB5:

      “We must start basing critical decisions about education policy on the impact those policies have on our children.”

      So its not really students first, its just ‘my version of what I think is better for students is better than yours’.

      I think its similar with the parent trigger. If you look at places those have been used, the end result wasnt so much that parents had an actual say, rather it was a way to open up access to parents to be manipulated by outside forces, generally for the gain of pro-charter interests.

      A while back the CCSA released a study/recommendation ‘rating’ all the charter schools in California and even go so far as to suggest that those not meeting some level of measured improvement be closed. That is a pretty radical statement by a charter school association and I have to at least give them credit for being consistent in doing so (independent of whether the measures they used were absolutely appropriate (standardized test scores)). I would also be interested in whether SF supports closing underperforming charters. And maybe even to the broader point, if charters have been shown to be doing mostly worse and/or no better than their traditional public counterparts (based on standardized test scores, mind you), how is that not a policy that is impacting kids, and in a negative manner?

      I dont think you’ll hear from SF because they are not interested in a discussion. Its not what emperors do..

  10. Mary says:

    I taught for 16 years, and I wish that we would have had these kind of multiple measures when I was in the classroom. Gathering data from multiple sources, including student surveys, parent surveys, student assessments and work products, as well as classroom observations by principals or peers, just makes so much sense. A full picture begins to emerge that allows the teacher to examine her/his practice and to grow. The teachers I know don’t believe that one test represents their value, and they also fear the arbitrary use of power by principals, who frequently don’t have the background in the subject area they are observing/evaluating. The more thoughtful measures that are added to the evaluation process, the more fair the evaluation becomes, and the less subject to arbitrariness. I don’t understand the concern about confidentiality. It is so easy to make a survey confidential! Student surveys correlate strongly with other measures of effectiveness, and should be mandated in grades 4-12 by AB 5.