San Jose teachers, board adopt landmark teacher evaluation system

Breaking new ground in California, San Jose Unified has adopted an innovative teacher evaluation process that gives teachers a role in reviewing their peers and greatly revises the current – and some say outmoded – method of measuring teacher success.

The new system would deny automatic raises to unsatisfactory performers and give evaluators the option of adding another year to the probationary period for new teachers – a provision at odds with the state teachers union. Bucking a national trend, the new system will not use standardized test scores as a direct measure of performance.

The school board approved the contract, two years in the making, Thursday night. Seventy-two percent of San Jose teachers endorsed it, with three-quarters of teachers in the union voting, earlier this month.

San Jose Teachers Association President Jennifer Thomas and Superintendent Vincent Matthews relax after the school board unanimously approved the contract with teachers, with the new evaluation system, Thursday night. (John Fensterwald photo)

San Jose Teachers Association President Jennifer Thomas and Superintendent Vincent Matthews relax after the school board unanimously approved the contract with teachers, with the new evaluation system, Thursday night. (John Fensterwald photo)

The agreement offers a model of collaboration between teachers and a district at a time when unions, school reformers and district leaders in California remain sharply divided over how to change the state’s largely ineffective evaluation law, the Stull Act, and who – teachers or the school board – should have the authority to determine what an evaluation system should comprise.

“Teachers, in concert with the district, have created something that puts teachers in the center of what happens with student achievement. There is the recognition that professional development is important, and so is student growth. The teacher’s voice is heard once again,” said English teacher and San Jose Teachers Association President Jennifer Thomas.

“To assist teachers to grow as professionals, it was important that management and the union work together,” said Superintendent Vincent Matthews. “We believe it will lead to greater student achievement.”

The new evaluation system won’t take effect for two years, and not all of the pieces are in place. A salary ladder that incorporates higher pay for model and master teachers will rely initially on outside funding that the district must now pursue.

Chief features include:

  • Peer review

Currently in nearly all districts, the principal or assistant principal does evaluations, often based on hurried observations and a checklist of items that critics say don’t get to the heart of good teaching. Teachers view the process as either superficial or as a game of gotcha.

Under the San Jose contract, consulting teachers – a newly created position – will participate with principals in evaluating probationary teachers and, when requested, veteran teachers after a principal’s initial review. Six-member Teacher Quality Panels, split equally between teachers and administrators, but requiring a majority vote for actions, may review decisions at key points along the way and make recommendations to the school board. The Teacher Quality Panels are modeled after successful Peer Assistance and Review programs in San Juan Unified and Poway Unified, which are permitted under state law, but with added responsibilities. Thomas said including respected teachers on the teacher quality panels cuts both ways, as a protection from an inaccurate or unfair review and as an affirmation that it’s accurate. “There is accountability at both ends,” she said. “A teacher will tell another who is struggling, ‘You may not like your evaluation but it is not necessarily wrong.'”

  • A connection between performance and pay

Teachers will continue with a traditional step and column pay scale, based on experience and degrees. (Union and district negotiators had considered a more compressed pay schedule that might be more attractive to younger teachers, but it didn’t happen.) However, teachers whose evaluations are deemed unsatisfactory will lose an automatic yearly raise. After a year of work with a mentor teacher under an improvement plan, teachers whom the Teacher Quality Panel decides have improved will return to the salary schedule. Those who had not improved would face dismissal.

  • New career positions

Model and master teachers will be selected for three-year assignments, paying in the range of $15,000 to $25,000 more per year, after a rigorous application process. Model teachers will be recognized as the best classroom practitioners and will get extra money for coaching and mentoring – roles they’re already informally assuming without official status, Thomas said. They’ll remain in their classrooms. Master teachers will have special assignments, such as designing curriculums and overseeing district projects, outside of the classroom. Moving ahead with these positions initially will depend on raising outside funding, between $7 million and $10 million a year, Matthews said. Thomas said she’s confident the district will be able to find the funding once the contract is ratified.

  • Optional three-year probationary period for new teachers

Under current state law, districts must decide by March of the second year whether to grant teachers permanent status or tenure, which provides due-process rights and job protections. A two-year probationary period is not a lot of time on which to base a decision, particularly in districts without effective mentoring and induction programs. In San Jose, Teacher Quality Panels could recommend a third year when they determine a teacher has potential but needs more time to develop, Thomas said.

The district will have to go to the Legislature for a waiver from the Education Code to extend the probationary period, and that may be hard to get. The nationwide trend has been to increase the probationary period to three to five years (see page  11). California is one of only a half-dozen states to grant tenure in less than three years. However, the California Teachers Association has opposed efforts to change the law.

All teachers will be evaluated every two years, and there are provisions permitting yearly updates, to track progress toward meeting improvement goals. Under the Stull Act, experienced teachers can be evaluated as infrequently as once every five years. Classroom walkthroughs, formal observations, interactions with the principal, feedback from peers, a student/parent survey and personal reflections will all factor into a review, without assigning specific weights or points that other evaluation systems quantify. Instead, a narrative by a consulting teacher and principal will detail strengths and weaknesses.

The rubric for judging will be the California Standards for the Teaching Profession, six broad standards broken down into specific skills that an effective teacher needs. These include engaging and supporting all students, understanding and organizing subject matter, planning instruction, designing lessons and learning experiences and creating assessments for learning.

Student test scores will be one gauge. But they won’t be used directly. Instead, evaluators will look at whether teachers learn from the results of assessments and use them to improve the way they teach, say, writing or fractions. If changes in teaching don’t lead to better results, then that will affect an evaluation, Matthews said.

This approach is different from using value-added measures of standardized tests as a significant component in an evaluation and separates the San Jose system from one favored by reform groups like StudentsFirst. In 2011, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled that the Stull Act does require the use of the state standardized test scores as a factor in a teacher evaluation and ordered Los Angeles Unified to incorporate them.

But San Jose’s approach also is more in line with the approach recommended in Greatness By Design, the report of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson’s Task Force on Educator Excellence, co-chaired by Stanford Education Professor Linda Darling-Hammond and Long Beach Superintendent Christopher Steinhauser.

California standards tests – CSTs – won’t be used in the San Jose evaluations; the fact that the state is phasing them out in two years made that issue simpler to resolve. Common Core assessments that are being developed by a multi-state consortium to replace them, both end-of-year and practice tests, may be incorporated, depending on their quality.

“We believe the agreement complies with Stull Act, with the spirit of the law,” Matthews said, “and we will continue down that road until we’re told it’s the wrong road.”

San Jose’s system continues the Stull Act’s pass/fail grading system. The federal government, as a condition for a waiver from the No Child Left Behind law, is requiring that states adopt a minimum of three performance levels, such as “meets expectations, doesn’t meet expectations, and needs improvement.” But Matthews said that the binary system gives teachers the clearest indication of where they stand. And, with raises tied to evaluations, adding levels of performance would have shifted the focus of discussions from ways to improve to money.

Teachers and the district will move carefully to implement the system over the next two years, Thomas said. Details must be worked out and consulting teachers and principals fully trained.Last year, an effort to rewrite the Stull Act ended in acrimony over the issue of whether the criteria and standards behind a district’s evaluation should be subject to collective bargaining. All key aspects in the San Jose agreement were negotiated, under the assumption a system whose goal is continuous improvement is built on trust.

“It’s important that we work together to make the tools in an evaluation process as meaningful as possible,” Matthews said.

Filed under: Evaluations, Pay and Tenure, State Education Policy, Teaching

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22 Responses to “San Jose teachers, board adopt landmark teacher evaluation system”

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  1. Kennedy Peters on Feb 1, 2014 at 6:26 am02/1/2014 6:26 am

    • 000

    Unfortunately, while an administrative credential grants the right to evaluate teachers, it does not guarantee the necessary abilities are acquired–only that they are presented; just as holding a teaching credential does not guarantee the teacher has the necessary abilities to instruct (and, btw, what are the agreed upon definitions of ability and effectiveness?). Just as Students are presented with concepts and procedures they are expected to acquire and utilize, however, that doesn’t mean they have actually done so.

    Administrators are not evaluated based on their abilities to properly evaluate teachers, any more than teachers are evaluated based on their ability to evaluate students. And the administrators are not exemplary from my experience anyway. In fact they’re far from exemplary

    Inherent in teacher evaluation
    is the challenge of evaluating them objectively, when they are responsible for supervising a “dept.” of upwards of 150 students- each with their own family backgrounds, socioeconomic standing, and language abilities. Each with their own multi-faceted “output.” in other professions, the output is measureable. In teaching, the student may know a standard of learning, without knowing the answer to a rest question bc it isn’t tested in the same way it was taught.

    Teaching is a human profession–one that changes year to year, down to minute by minute.

    Teaching is entirely over scrutinized – what other profession has a multitude of evaluators who sit in the worker’s cubicle, office, or warehouse and take verbatim notes of what is seen and heard, then evaluates them with no objective means because there is simply no way to objectively measure a teacher’s effectiveness to ALL students.
    It is similar to attempting to measures tufted

    Trying to evaluate a teacher’s “effectiveness” is like trying to evaluate a parent’s “effectiveness.” Who decides what is “effective??!!” in in the case of humans, there are too many factors that go into the “outcome” of a productive human, say, if that was the criteria for basing the effectiveness .

    Nor does it ensure that what they learned will not be shadowed by how closed friends they are with that teacher—or enemies. And then there’s the politics…. And genetic influence.

    Assessing effective teachers with “evidence” is like trying to prove a rainbow is beautiful-you can see it, but you can’t hold it in your hands and assess it’s beauty–you just know it is. And then there are those who think they’re not full of beauty….

  2. Manuel on May 28, 2013 at 9:28 pm05/28/2013 9:28 pm

    • 11100

    I once attended an LAUSD symposium where teacher effectiveness was discussed. A presentation was given on how Montgomery County Public Schools (in Maryland, nearly 149,000 students in 2012-13) had a peer review system that actually recommended the dismissal of teachers. Without spending a good time comparing this working program with the one San Jose is proposing, I’d say that if anyone wants (Paul?) wants to check it in depth, here are the links to the teachers contract ( the PAR brochure ( I did a quick look and found that the PAR panel recommends for retention/dismissals (as I remember) while the principal’s (or assistant principal’s) evaluation is part of the materials considered by the PAR panel.

    The presentation was, if memory serves me right, of course positive: the teachers and administrators felt it was a fair system that increased the retention of highly qualified teachers. Whether this will work in San Jose only time will tell.

  3. Jill on May 28, 2013 at 10:40 am05/28/2013 10:40 am

    • 000

    It is sad to me that everyone assumes the district has negative intentions or an inability to carry out the intent of the contract. I applaud the teachers for taking a risk to make some changes to a system that I believe we can all agree is quite broken. Remember, the contract isn’t permanent (I didn’t see in the article what was the length of the contract), and if the system doesn’t work or the district is using it to be deceitful, the teachers will certainly go back to old ways with the next contract. Change involves some risk and given the large numbers of teachers who voted to ratify the contract they obviously feel it is worth the risk.

  4. Paul on May 27, 2013 at 4:32 pm05/27/2013 4:32 pm

    • 000

    Beyond the parties’ amateurish, “head stuck in the sand” attitude toward legal difficulties, I’m amused by an assumption that underlies the new evaluation system:

    “exemplary” at teaching K-12 students => “exemplary” at evaluating adult employees

    There is really no connection between those skills. The first skill is taught in teacher credential programs and developed through classroom teaching experience. The second is neither taught in teacher credential programs nor developed through classroom teaching experience.

    Accordingly, the inclusion of the three teachers in a Teacher Quality Panel on the grounds that they are “exemplary teachers” is suspect.

    The fact remains that personnel evaluation — especially as it relates to dismissal — is a specialized skill. In industry, human resource professionals are hired because they’ve studied human resources and practiced in that field, not because they’ve performed a completely different job long enough to gain recognition and seniority.

    Even though it’s become fashionable to have kids, parents, political pundits, Los Angeles Times staff writers, and teachers evaluate teachers, in non-charter California public schools, the only people qualified to do so are administrative credential-holders. The law (credential authorization language):

    Teacher: “This document authorizes the holder to teach … in grades twelve and below, including preschool, and in classes organized primarily for adults. …”

    Administrator: “This credential authorizes the holder to … evaluate certificated … personnel; … provide certificated … employees [sic.] discipline, including but not limited to suspension, dismissal, and reinstatement …”

    Maybe it’s a hidden blessing that the new San Jose contract has no language obliging the school district to do what the panel says. (Note to the local union: oops!) The panel can only make “recommendations”, which sounds just about right for a group, half of whose members are not qualified to perform the group’s fundamental task.


    • CarolineSF on May 29, 2013 at 7:53 am05/29/2013 7:53 am

      • 000

      To be more specific, the Los Angeles Times staff writers and editors developed an evaluation rubric for teachers (well, aren’t journalists fully trained and qualified to do that?) and hired a freelance researcher to deploy it.

  5. el on May 26, 2013 at 3:41 pm05/26/2013 3:41 pm

    • 000

    It will be interesting to have a group whose sole job is to evaluate teachers, and who are evaluating all the teachers in the district, which suggests that the evaluations might be more even across the district. Time will tell.

    What I see in my district is that the 2 year probationary period means that there’s a lot of incentive to make a decision on a teacher fairly early and to mentor closely anyone who is on the bubble. My suggestion is that extending that period to 3 or 5 years makes it more likely that questionable teachers will be kept on longer or even accidentally retained because it’s less likely to be top of mind. However, my experience is with a small district with relatively few new teachers each year. In a school system where more than half the teachers are in the two year probationary period, it would be incredibly unmanageable… and to be honest I can’t imagine trying to run a school where that was the typical situation.


    • navigio on May 26, 2013 at 4:10 pm05/26/2013 4:10 pm

      • 000

      My impression from the language is that this is not their sole job, rather it is an ‘additional’ responsibility (I think John mentioned that in the article, as well as the fact that they get some extra money for doing it).

      One of the problems for probationary durations (for any kind of employees) seems to be they often ‘get a pass’ for the first year, sometimes even the second. And yes, not top of mind also seems a common problem.

      • el on May 27, 2013 at 2:36 pm05/27/2013 2:36 pm

        • 000

        This may be a benefit of smaller schools and smaller districts – there’s no place to hide someone who is sub par.

  6. John Fensterwald on May 26, 2013 at 1:29 pm05/26/2013 1:29 pm

    • 000

    navigio: Of course, San Jose Unified has some mediocre principals, along with some wonderful principals. (I live in San Jose.) I applaud the teachers for not using that as an excuse for not creating a better evaluation system that focuses on improvement. The Teacher Quality Panels will serve as a check for poorly done evaluations by administrators. Since effective evaluations become a key responsibility of a principal, the system should prove valuable, and the process will be transparent to teachers and the district.


    • navigio on May 26, 2013 at 4:25 pm05/26/2013 4:25 pm

      • 000

      Thanks John, I appreciate your position. I just hope that we don’t use this process as an excuse for not hiring the principals that our kids deserve. Or, more importantly, for failing to hold our district administrators accountable when that does not happen. Unfortunately, because the focus is virtually always only on teachers that’s usually exactly what we do.
      You also touch on something that I’ve been looking for a context to talk about, And that is the question of ‘internal’ transparency. Personally, I’ve never found internal transparency meaningful as there isn’t really any kind of internal accountability (in fact, ‘accountability’ seems almost meaningless unless there is a public component, but I’ll have to think more about that). I would even argue that pretty much everything is already internally transparent (ie to teachers and district admins) but that fact does not bring about any change, and there is no incentive for that ever to happen. In fact, it seems whenever teachers try to start airing some of these issues (usually if they are harmful to their students) they pay a political / job-related price.
      I would appreciate hearing your opinion on how internal transparency can be useful.
      On the question of transparency more generally (ie publicly), I have the opposite, but perhaps extreme view. My opinion is its almost never a bad thing when looked at from the position of improving things for the kids. If being transparent exposes things that are working, thats beneficial for people to know (both the public and other systems). If it exposes something that is not working, then we know what needs to be fixed. Win-win. :-)
      I think many people are hesitant to see things this broadly because of the fear to opening themselves up to litigation. However, that is a non-student-focused concern. Anyway…

  7. John Fensterwald on May 26, 2013 at 11:47 am05/26/2013 11:47 am

    • 000

    Principals will continue to do the initial evaluation, which will be much more extensive and require additional training? Yes, their compensation should be modified, navigio, if the result is an improved school culture and trust and improved student achievement.


    • navigio on May 26, 2013 at 12:27 pm05/26/2013 12:27 pm

      • 000

      Thanks John. So the implication is then that the evaluation done by principals now is deficient and that contributes to negative school culture and student failure? What exactly is prohibiting principals from doing this now? Merely contract language like this?

      From the perspective of a school/parent, district hierarchy looks like an hourglass. At the bottom we have teachers. At the top we have district central admins (and in some places, BoE members). At the squeezed section is the principal. The only reason this looks like a normal hierarchy on paper is that there are multiple schools and only one central office. But the point is there is only one place on the hierarchy where the entire system collapses if one person fails and its at that principal position. Of course, the central admins are responsible for not only hiring effective principals, but making sure they actually are effective (something that cannot always be seen during an ‘interview’) and improve if they are not. But of course this does not happen now unless we are ‘lucky’ and accidentally hire someone effective by accident because teachers are the cause of all school failure.

      I dont have a problem trying to hold teachers accountable, but I think in many districts its not actually where the real problems lie. And note, if the percentage of ineffective admins is anywhere close to that of ineffective teachers, we are in BIG trouble.

  8. navigio on May 26, 2013 at 11:39 am05/26/2013 11:39 am

    • 000

    “16231 The TQP shall be made up of three exemplary teachers and three exemplary administrators.”

    What if 3 exemplary administrators can’t be found? Is there an evaluation process that defines that term for administrators?

    It is also noteworthy that in the definition of terms, ‘administrator’ does not specify ‘site administrator’.

    In reality, this process absolves the principal of one of his/her primary roles. Are we going to modify that position’s responsibilities and compensation accordingly?

  9. John Fensterwald on May 26, 2013 at 9:48 am05/26/2013 9:48 am

    • 000

    Paul: The union did not give up something for nothing. The Teacher Quality Panels, consisting of administrators and teachers, will make the recommendation as to who should receive permanent status based on a comprehensive evaluation. The district is relinquishing its ability to make arbitrary and capricious decisions,


    • Paul on May 27, 2013 at 12:44 pm05/27/2013 12:44 pm

      • 000

      John, I appreciate that that’s what been said, but there is no legal mechanism for implementing it. Panels can recommend whatever they want, but nothing in the law binds the district. The district cannot be forced to honor anyone’s recommendation about reelection.

      Teachers will be requesting a waiver of their right to a reelection decision after only two years of probationary service. The State Board of Education can, as a practical matter, agree to TAKE AWAY this right. But only the State Legislature can ADD new rights not present in the law. Establishing a legal relationship between evaluation and reelection would create a new right for teachers. Waivers, by their nature, take away from the law; they cannot be used to add to it.

      You can find the case law on non-reelection, which is really clear that there is no relationship betweem evaluation and reelection. Other cases establish that collective bargaining agreements do not trump the Education Code; for example, a local contract cannot alter the strict layoff process prescribed by the Education Code. I will also look up the cases.

      These teachers in San Jose really are naive. I imagine that the proposal was negotiated by the same permanent (“tenured”), senior teachers who stand to receive annual $10 to $25K bonuses for serving on the straw-man evaluation panels. Probationary (new-to-the-district) teachers make up a small minority of any district’s workforce, and so don’t have any clout in union elections.

      The real effect of lengthening the probationary period will be to reduce the quality of the applicant pool in San Jose. With literally hundreds of other districts to choose from in the 9-county Bay Area, why would a new teacher with a serious commitment to education — someone whose own economic future depends on earning permanent status in a school district — prolong the uncertainty for a third year? Only people who don’t plan to stay long or who can afford to be let go — i.e., those with other career prospects — can afford the extra uncertainty.

      • John Fensterwald on May 27, 2013 at 1:44 pm05/27/2013 1:44 pm

        • 000

        We’ll have to see how it shakes out, Paul – whether the panels recommend permanent status for some teachers after two years and whether the district follows the recommendation. My hunch is that, if the new system does work, San Jose may attract young teachers who see the opportunity to become model teachers, earning more money much sooner than they would under the traditional step-and-column system. Selection will be by merit, not tenure.

  10. Paul on May 25, 2013 at 9:39 pm05/25/2013 9:39 pm

    • 000

    A union that agrees to prolong probation for teachers new to a district from two years to three has given up something for nothing, and also suffers from a short memory.

    There is no notion of cause in non-reelection, the process by which teachers can be let go during the probationary period. A school district does not need a reason (such as tardiness, or poor classroom performance) to non-reelect, and most districts never disclose a reason. Case law has clearly established that there is no legal relationship between evaluation and reelection. It is both permissible and normal for a school district not to reelect a teacher, despite the person’s having received an excellent evaluation. The evaluator and the decision-maker might be entirely different! For example, a principal might want to retain an effective teacher, but an assistant superintendent of personnel might have a policy that no further teachers may accede to permanent (“tenured”) status. The result? Non-reelection without cause.

    Because non-reelection is not for cause, there is no guarantee than the San Jose Unified School District will use its new evaluation system to inform reelection decisions. While probationary teachers must be informed of their evaluation results (Stull), those results need not be considered in reelection decisions, and indeed, no reason need be given to a teacher who is not reelected.

    This system came about some decades ago, as a COMPROMISE between legislators and state teachers’ unions. The probationary period had been three years, but probationary teachers could only be non-reelected for cause. Teachers gave up the right to non-reelection for cause, and the state gave up the third year of promotion. Now, naive teachers in San Jose have restored the third year of probation without restoring dismissal for cause. I thought that negotiation involved give-AND-take!


    • Cal on May 28, 2013 at 6:53 am05/28/2013 6:53 am

      • 000

      Paul is absolutely correct; John is wrong. The district will not be legally compelled to non-re-elect for cause; it’s common knowledge that in that district, second year teachers are randomly dismissed without cause, usually at the district’s behest.

      First and second year reviews are not even required for non-re-election. A teacher can be given no eval, in violation of union procedures, and then non-re-elected. Or, as Paul mentioned, given a glowing eval two years in a row and then be non-re-elected.

      The district can’t give up its ability to make arbitrary and capricious decisions. California law guarantees it, and case law has consistently found that a district can violate its contract without losing the right to dismissal without cause.

      • el on May 28, 2013 at 6:54 pm05/28/2013 6:54 pm

        • 000

        It may appear random from the outside, but that doesn’t make it so.

        In some cases, for example, they may be good people who just aren’t a fit for the current staff/students/position or for the position that will be available in the next year.

        • Paul on May 28, 2013 at 11:48 pm05/28/2013 11:48 pm

          • 000

          el, of course there is always some reason why a probationary teacher was not reelected. Here’s the problem: if the reason can’t be disclosed, it was probably soft: the decision-maker didn’t “like” the teacher, or simply wanted to exercise managerial power, in one of the few situations where a site-level, or more commonly district-level, administrator still has absolute authority. It is in this sense that non-reelection decisions under current law are potentially arbitrary.

          The scenario that you describe (good teacher not a good fit for position available next year) sounds like common sense, but in fact it would not be a correct application of non-reelection. A change in the kinds of positions available next year requires a “particular kinds of service” (PKS) layoff. Moreover, the Education Code does not recognize any notion of “fit” other than the teacher’s holding a credential authorizing the specific service required for the job.* Think about it for moment: What would you do if you sought to address changes in enrollment within a grade or course by non-reelecting your probationary teachers? Since there are normally very few probationary teachers in a district, changes on any scale would affect positions held by permanent teachers — but you couldn’t non-reelect them!

          The old requirement to non-reelect for cause was transparent and fair. San Jose is restoring the three-year probationary period, without restoring dismissal for cause.

          * The only exception is that districts may set broader “skipping” and “tie-breaking” criteria for a layoff. In addition to requiring an appropriate credential, a district could specify that the teacher “must have taught the subject within the last five years”. Even here, vague criteria such as “is a good fit” are not permissible. (Refer to court decisions on attempts to shield designated schools within from seniority-based layoffs.)

  11. Gary Ravani on May 24, 2013 at 1:23 pm05/24/2013 1:23 pm

    • 000

    Sounds interesting. It does seem to parallel Greatness by Design. I’d be concerned about relying on funding from “outside sources.” That model has not turned out well in the past, and there are often “strings” attached to such funding. On the other hand, in CA, when you need funding to try to support educational improvement and renewal, as opposed to the machinations of the self-styled “reformers,” what are you going to do?

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