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L.A. Unified principals to see teachers' effectiveness ratings

The previously confidential ratings estimate teachers' effectiveness in raising students' standardized test scores. The district is in negotiations to use the ratings as part of a new teacher evaluation system.

October 16, 2011|By Jason Song, Los Angeles Times
  • L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy has said teachers will not be formally judged on their effectiveness scores, but observers say he is trying to pressure the teachers union by letting principals see the ratings.
L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy has said teachers will not be formally judged… (Al Seib, Los Angeles Times )

For the first time, Los Angeles school principals will see previously confidential ratings that estimate teachers' effectiveness in raising students' standardized test scores.

Los Angeles Unified officials began issuing the ratings privately to about 12,000 math and English teachers last year and plan to issue new ones this month to about 14,000 instructors, including some who teach science and history.

The scores are based on an analysis the district calls Academic Growth over Time. Taking an approach similar to that used in value-added ratings in other school systems across the country, the district analyzes teachers based on their students' progress on standardized tests from year to year. Each student's performance is compared with his or her own performances in past years, which largely controls for outside influences often blamed for academic failure: poverty, prior learning and other factors.

The school district, the nation's second-largest, is in negotiations with its teachers union to use the ratings as one piece in a new evaluation system. United Teachers Los Angeles, however, has vehemently opposed using students' test data to review instructors. It has argued that the tests themselves are too flawed to be reliable in high-stakes personnel decisions.

L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy has said teachers will not be formally judged on the scores, but observers say he is trying to pressure the union by allowing principals to view the ratings.

The union is "up against a wall," said Terry Moe, a Stanford University professor whose work focuses on teachers unions. "The superintendent would be wise to promote reform now and try to push the union as far as they can go."

The district began issuing its own value-added scores after The Times published a series of articles last year based on the newspaper's analysis of district data.

L.A. Unified is testing a new evaluation system using the data in a voluntary program that includes about 1,000 educators. The educators were given bonuses and other benefits to participate. The union has unsuccessfully tried to legally block the pilot program.

UTLA President Warren Fletcher declined to discuss the district's push for a new evaluation system because negotiations are underway.

"UTLA … is working hard to find common ground," Fletcher said in a statement.

Judith Perez, the president of the administrators union, said she was unaware that principals would have access to teacher scores and that any change to evaluations would have to be agreed upon by union leaders.

There are some signs that rank-and-file instructors want union leadership to be more aggressive about reforms, although not all agree that test scores should be linked to their evaluations.

A splinter group of UTLA, called NewTLA, has elected about 90 members to the union's policymaking body, the House of Representatives. The group has called for the union to be more proactive in its negotiations with the district.

Another group, Teachers for a New Unionism, is gathering signatures to require UTLA members to vote on whether they should agree to a new, "teacher-driven" evaluation system in exchange for a district pledge not to lay off teachers for two years.

The group has gathered about 300 of the needed 500 signatures, according to James Encinas, a fourth-grade teacher at Westminster Elementary School who is leading the movement.

Encinas, the union representative at the school for four years, said that he would be willing to accept value-added ratings as part of a new, more comprehensive evaluation system but that union leaders have been unwilling to listen to his proposals.

"What's the point of having a union to represent me when my voice isn't being heard?" he said.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jerry Brown and other state leaders have expressed concerns that collecting more data will not lead to better education. This month, Brown vetoed a bill that would have revised the state Academic Performance Index, which rates schools based on a variety of factors. The bill could have added more factors to the index, including graduation rates.

"Adding more speedometers to a broken car won't turn it into a high-performance machine," Brown wrote.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, whose department has called on districts and states to use student data in teacher evaluations in return for grants and less federal regulation, said last week that he believes states should definitely use data to drive instruction and in evaluations.

"I think dropout rates matter. I think graduation rates matter," Duncan said while visiting Los Angeles. "We can't perpetuate the status quo."

jason.song@latimes.com

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