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Teachers union agrees to reopen talks on evaluations

Union president says he will meet with L.A. Unified leaders to discuss changes, but refuses to say whether the value-added method, even as just a part of teacher reviews, will be on the table.

August 21, 2010|By Phil Willon and Jason Song, Los Angeles Times

The head of the Los Angeles teachers union said Saturday that he has accepted city school district officials' proposal to reopen negotiations over teacher evaluations but stopped short of saying whether a method tying teacher reviews to their students' test scores would be on the table.

Los Angeles Unified School District leaders on Friday requested that the union consider making the method, known as value-added analysis, count for part of teachers' evaluations -- a move that would transform how instructors are assessed in the nation's second-largest school district.

United Teachers Los Angeles and its president, A.J. Duffy, have staunchly opposed the use of students' standardized test scores in teacher evaluations. But they have come under pressure over the last several days from local leaders and the head of a major national teachers union to accept value-added analysis as one measure of teacher performance, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

Duffy has long said the current evaluation system is broken and needs to be revamped, but Saturday's announcement was his first formal step toward opening negotiations over it. This is also the first time in recent years that the district has requested renegotiation of the evaluation system.

The sensitive exchanges between the district and union follow a Times report published last week in which the newspaper, based on a value-added analysis of more than 6,000 elementary school teachers, found sometimes huge disparities in instructors' effectiveness.

In a speech to hundreds of union members Friday night at UTLA's annual conference in Indio, Duffy said that he is "ready, willing and able" to create a new evaluation system that is fair for teachers. "We are in favor of legitimate uses of student data to help improve teaching," he said.

His position on value-added analysis itself was harder to discern. In the speech and an interview Saturday, he voiced strong criticisms of the approach, which estimates the effectiveness of teachers based on student progress on standardized tests. But when pressed repeatedly on whether he would try to take value-added off the table, he declined to answer.

"I've said it the way I prefer say it," Duffy said at the conference, dressed casually in shorts with a wireless headset affixed to his ear. "I am answering the way I think is best."

In the past, he has adamantly opposed any use of value-added analysis in formal evaluations, though he has said he was open to using it as a way to give feedback to teachers.

On Saturday, Duffy criticized The Times for its use of value-added analysis and its plans to publish a database that will include value-added ratings of more than 6,000 third- through fifth-grade teachers later this month. Duffy said that value-added scores are too narrow a measure on which to rate teachers -- they only take math and English standardized test scores into account -- and that the database could endanger teachers by publicizing where they work.

Duffy, along with the presidents of the California Teachers Assn. and the National Education Assn., sent a letter to Times editors earlier this week, asking the paper not to publish the database and calling the planned publication a "reckless and destructive move."

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, met with Duffy last week and urged him to consider agreeing to value-added analysis as one component of evaluations, according to people with knowledge of the meetings. In an interview last week, she said she believes parents have a right to know how well their child's teacher rated, but she opposed making teachers' scores available to the public.

Weingarten is more open to value-added analysis than other union leaders and said she has negotiated 54 contracts in districts where it counted for 10% to 30% of a teacher's review.

Duffy refused to discuss the specifics of their meetings. "She doesn't pressure local leaders to do anything," he said. "UTLA is a giant ... so they don't dictate to us."

Weingarten could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles Unified leaders last week moved to use value-added analysis in ways that do not require union agreement.

John Deasy, the district's deputy superintendent, sent a memo to board members Friday outlining the district's plans, which include informing teachers and principals confidentially of their value-added scores by October. He indicated that this would not result in any punitive actions but was designed to help instructors improve.

"This will be a no stakes opportunity for educators to begin working with this information that will become part of a new performance review system," he wrote.

He said the scores could help administrators identify struggling teachers for extra help.

In the memo, Deasy also said that public report cards for individual schools would eventually also have value-added scores reflecting the overall effectiveness of their teaching staffs.

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