Los Angeles Unified, union cut deal on test scores and evaluations

November 30, 2012

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Facing a court-ordered deadline, Los Angeles Unified and its teachers union have agreed on a framework for evaluating teachers that will include using student scores on local and state standardized tests ­– but only to a limited, as yet undetermined extent.

The tentative agreement announced Friday, responds to a Superior Court ruling in June that found the district had failed to comply with a state law requiring that measures of student academic progress be factored into a teacher’s performance review.  Although Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James Chalfant’s ruling applied only to Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest district, many, if not most, districts in California also ignore that provision of the Stull Act. These districts should “take notice,” said Bill Lucia, president and CEO of the Sacramento advocacy organization EdVoice, which sued the district and United Teachers Los Angeles a year ago on behalf of a half-dozen unnamed parents.

LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy

Superintendent John Deasy called the tentative agreement “historic” and said in a statement that it “stands as testament that working together, LAUSD and UTLA can resolve difficult professional issues, while providing models for the state and the nation on any number of necessary transformative practices.”

UTLA President Warren Fletcher was less celebratory, expressing satisfaction over what the union had kept managed to keep out : the inclusion of a method of calculating teachers’ impact on students’ scores after controlling for external factors like their past test results and background.

UTLA President Warren Fletcher

The technique, called Academic Growth Over Time (AGT), had become a flashpoint in UTLA relations with Deasy and a source of controversy nationwide. Deasy had proposed using it as a significant factor in evaluations; UTLA opposes it as unsound. In the agreement, AGT scores of individual teachers cannot be part of a teacher’s evaluation, although school-level AGT data, thought to be more reliable, can be included among many factors.

Two years ago, the Los Angeles Times published its own version of the district’s AGT data for individual teachers based on California Standards Test results provided by the district. Under the terms of the agreement, that data, linked to individual teachers, would become part of personnel files, no longer available to the public and the news media, and the district would defend that position in court.

Observations of teachers’ classroom practices will continue to count the most in an evaluation. The district has been developing a comprehensive and uniform observation process for two years and training principals in using it, although it has not been negotiated with UTLA for districtwide use.

Student progress will be another component. The California Standards Tests, along with “future criterion-referenced state-mandated replacements” (by implication, Common Core math and English language arts tests starting in 2014-15) will be among the multiple measures. The agreement mentions others, from which teachers and their principals can choose: district benchmark tests, various reading tests and curriculum-based exams, and school-level measures such as attendance and suspension rates, Advanced Placement passage rates, English language reclassification rates and class grades. Locally developed assessments will determine students’ progress for teachers in middle and high schools whose students don’t take state standardized tests. A six-person committee, with the district and UTLA choosing three members, will recommend which measures are appropriate in each grade and help resolve evaluation disputes.

The agreement, an addendum to the teachers contract, must still be approved by the school board and UTLA members, who will vote in January. But the union and administration were facing a Dec. 4 deadline set by Judge Chalfant to reach a deal on the use of standardized test scores and other measures of academic progress. Both sides understood that “if we did not respond, we risked having something imposed on us,” said Fletcher.

It will be a “logistical challenge” to include performance measures in this year’s evaluations since teachers’ goals and objectives have already been set, Fletcher said. Under the agreement, a “significant number” of teachers will be able to push their reviews back to another year. Because the new system will require extensive planning and training, teachers with 10 or more years experience will have the authority to push their reviews back an additional one to three years.

Lucia said he’d be watching to see how the agreement is implemented, but at least on paper he is satisfied with what he sees. “Finally, there will be recognition that there needs to be multiple measures of student progress and that it is OK to put a pupil learning component into the evaluation of an adult.”

In a statement, Deasy said, “This agreement strikes a balance that is much needed in the country right now in terms of using student measures of academic progress as both a vehicle to improve instruction, and to hold us accountable for the achievement of students in our schools.”

But the agreement will not end the debate over the use of student test scores, whether raw CST scores or complex valued-added algorithms like AGT. An effort to rewrite the Stull Act earlier this year ended bitterly, with hard feelings between the California Teachers Association and groups such as EdVoice. Whether to require state test scores as a component in evaluations was one point of division.

A new Legislature is expected to try again next year.

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