A key Senate committee approved a bill Thursday aimed at enhancing teacher evaluations that would effectively eliminate state requirements to use student standardized test scores to measure an instructor's effectiveness.
AB 5, by Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar), would establish a statewide uniform teacher evaluation system that would increase performance reviews, classroom observations, training of evaluators and public input into the review process. The bill was approved, 5-2, by the Senate Appropriations Committee after Fuentes found $89 million to fund it and move it forward.
But the bill would require negotiated agreement with unions, including United Teachers Los Angeles, which opposes the Los Angeles Unified School District's use of student test scores as one measure of teacher effectiveness. LAUSD Supt. John Deasy has said the bill, which the district opposes, would make it more difficult to push forward a new voluntary evaluation program.
"We oppose every piece of this," Deasy said of the bill. "It's very clear that what this bill does is legislate less accountability for teachers and administrators."
Fuentes called his bill "leagues better" than current state law, which has largely resulted in pro-forma evaluations of teachers that critics say offer little useful feedback on how to improve their performance.
"While the subject of teacher evaluations is a controversial one, we can all agree that our current teacher evaluation system is inconsistent, unclear and does not help to educate our children or continually allow improvement of our teachers," Fuentes said in a statement. "My goal is to establish a fair, transparent and comprehensive teacher evaluation system..."
Educational organizations such as the California School Boards Assn. oppose the bill because they fear the new observations, training and bargaining will cost financially strapped districts too much. But Fuentes said the bill would provide $89 million in unused funds allocated to low-income schools for the evaluations. L.A. Unified could gain $16 million, he said.
In addition, Fuentes said the bill could help California obtain a waiver from federal requirements for improving low-performing schools by proposing its own state plan for doing so. If so, the state could potentially be granted more flexibility in spending $350 million in federal dollars intended to help boost student achievement.
Sue Burr, executive director of the state board of education and Gov. Jerry Brown's educational policy adviser, said initial federal feedback on the bill suggested that chances of winning a waiver were "favorable ... but would probably require additional guidelines or regulations."
In a letter to Fuentes, however, several educational advocacy groups said the bill's proposed evaluation system was too weak to get a federal waiver. Arun Ramanathan of Oakland-based The Education Trust-West, who has reviewed waiver requests from four states, said the bill would fail in part because it does not require state standardized test scores to measure students' academic growth.
Under the bill, districts and unions would negotiate which measures to use to gauge student progress. They could include state standardized test scores as well as class projects, portfolios, grades and presentations.
Earlier versions of the bill required the use of state test scores, drawing opposition from teacher unions. Fuentes' staff said that element was dropped when AB 5 was merged with another performance review bill by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles).
"Not only does the legislation implement a toothless teacher evaluation system, the bill could jeopardize school district efforts to put great teachers in every classroom," said Tim Melton, vice president of legislative affairs for StudentsFirst, a Sacramento-based national educational advocacy organization.
Others praised the bill as a landmark step that would set minimum state standards for a performance review system for the first time but give districts the flexibility to tailor it to local needs.
Public Advocates Inc., a nonprofit law firm and advocacy group that focuses on civil rights, was an early supporter, in part because the bill would require community input in crafting a system for the first time.
"Who are the critical stakeholders missing from the current system? It's parents and students," said Liz Guillen, director of the group's legislative and community affairs. "Community input is critical. To make it a requirement across the state, that's pretty big."