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USC Dornsife/Times Poll

Californians support making teachers' reviews public

A majority of California voters want teacher evaluations made public and want student test scores factored into the reviews, the USC Dornsife/L.A. Times poll finds.

November 20, 2011|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
  • Gompers Middle School Principal Sonia Miller observes an English class in 2009. A new poll finds that a large majority of California voters want teacher evaluations to include students' test scores.
Gompers Middle School Principal Sonia Miller observes an English class… (Liz O. Baylen, Los Angeles…)

California voters want teachers' performance evaluations made public, a new poll has found. And most also want student test scores factored into an instructor's review.

Of those surveyed, 58% said the quality of public schools would be improved if the public had access to teachers' reviews; 23% said it would not help or could make things worse.

"They want to see the evaluations," said Linda DiVall, the chief executive of American Viewpoint, a Republican firm that co-directed the bipartisan poll for the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the Los Angeles Times. "Just like with corporate America, there is the same desire here for transparency and accountability."

About six in 10 voters said test scores should count for at least 30% of a teacher's evaluation. But voters also said they want a range of measures used, including parent feedback and classroom observation, to determine an instructor's effectiveness.

Across the country, an increasing number of school districts have begun using student test scores as an element in evaluating teachers — a move encouraged by the Obama administration. Thirteen states now make student achievement growth — typically measured by test scores — the most important component of teacher reviews, up from four states two years ago, according to the Washington, D.C.-based National Council on Teacher Quality.

In Los Angeles, the issue is a sticking point in contract negotiations. L.A. Unified School District Supt. John Deasy wants test scores included in a teacher's evaluation, but he opposes making the reviews public.

The teachers union has resisted any use of test scores to rate teachers. The union and some experts say that California's standardized tests provide a limited gauge of student learning and unreliable feedback on teacher effectiveness.

"It looks like the poll results, taken as a whole, are very supportive of Deasy's agenda" and that of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, said Dominic J. Brewer, associate dean of research and faculty affairs at USC's Rossier School of Education.

"There's clearly no teacher-bashing sentiment, just a desire for some changes," he said.

The public's desire for measuring teacher performance is understandable, said Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers.

"Quantifiable productivity is often the standard for evaluating performance in the private sector, but that model doesn't translate to public education," he said. "Teacher unions need to do a better job of communicating that."

If teacher assessments are fair and reliable, then those personnel records should no longer be confidential, said poll participant Kellisa Myers, 23, of Lakewood. Myers added, however, that she would not want evaluations to be based on student test results.

Myers' perspective exemplified the mixed feelings voters expressed about standardized tests. About 7 in 10 like the idea of relying less on test scores. And nearly two-thirds agreed that mandatory testing "can limit what students learn and does not account for social and economic differences or for the different ways in which students learn." A greater number of voters said that standardized testing had hurt rather than helped public education in California.

Latino voters had more faith in the tests: Half of them were willing to let the exams count for most of a teacher's rating. That's substantially more weight than many experts would give the tests; some oppose using them entirely.

Testing, said parent Anne Simoneau of Long Beach, is overused, "a huge expense," and promulgated by "a private industry that is using our fears to manipulate us, to scare us into utilizing their products."

At the same time, she said, some testing is needed to provide a standard for measuring progress. "And I do think it should be easier to get rid of ineffectual people," she said.

She recalled how her daughter slowed down academically under an ineffective teacher and soared under excellent ones. Even for her daughter, who has strong support at home and other advantages, the quality of the teaching mattered, said Simoneau, a urologist.

The survey found voters overwhelmingly reluctant to use only student exam results to determine teachers' pay: 10% would want teacher compensation set by such data.

There also was little support for basing teacher pay on experience or training. Currently, most teachers are paid based on a combination of experience and training.

"I don't think that simply having taken classes is worth a whole lot unless it helps with teaching," said participant Katherine Sapiro, 58, a college professor who lives in Whittier. "Standardized tests, I think, are worth even less."

On standardized tests and some other issues, voters' views frequently aligned with positions advanced by teachers unions. Most voters would pay teachers more, improve their training and move more money from administration to the classroom.

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