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’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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