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Teachers' attorney says evals can include test scores this year

LAUSD and its teachers union agree on a timeline to start factoring student achievement into employee evaluations — if they can agree on how to do it.

July 24, 2012|By Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times
  • United Teachers Los Angeles has argued in the past that test scores are too unreliable for use in such high-stakes decisions as firing, tenure and merit pay.
United Teachers Los Angeles has argued in the past that test scores are too… (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles…)

In a potentially groundbreaking decision, Los Angeles teachers and administrators agreed with the school district for the first time to use student test scores as part of performance reviews beginning this school year.

But an attorney for United Teachers Los Angeles later said the commitment he made during a court hearing Tuesday was contingent on whether the union and L.A. Unified School District could successfully negotiate an agreement on exactly how such scores would be used in the teacher evaluations.

That drew criticism from an attorney who sought the pledge in a case he brought on behalf of Los Angeles parents, who successfully sued the district for violating a 41-year-old state law that requires evaluations to include measures of student achievement, such as test scores.

"This is exactly what we were concerned about — that [UTLA] would say one thing in court and change their position thereafter," said Scott Witlin, an attorney for the group of unidentified parents.

In the case, which could transform teacher evaluations in California, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant ruled last month that L.A. Unified had violated the law, known as the Stull Act. The plaintiffs' attorneys had argued that the absence of a rigorous evaluation system that effectively identifies weak teachers for improvement or, if necessary, dismissal, deprives students of their constitutional right to educational equality.

In their agreement Tuesday, attorneys for the district and the unions representing teachers and administrators set Sept. 4 as the date to return to court with a progress report. They also agreed on a final deadline of Dec. 4 to show proof they had started using student achievement measures in performance reviews.

The teachers union's commitment to launch the new measures this year came after Witlin told the judge he believed all sides were dragging their feet on negotiating a new evaluation system.

UTLA attorney Jesus Quinonez sharply disagreed with Witlin, saying all parties were "very serious" about an agreement.

"Are you able to commit that what the district decides will be implemented for the purposes of teacher evaluations this school year?" Chalfant asked Quinonez.

"That's correct," Quinonez responded.

Under L.A. Unified Supt. John Deasy, about 700 teachers and principals at about 100 schools are participating in a voluntary evaluation program that uses a measure based on student test scores known as "academic growth over time." The district plans to train all principals and teachers in the program this year but has not decided when to begin using it for all employees. Deasy has said he believes the district has the right to create a new performance review system without negotiations.

The teachers union has opposed the voluntary program, saying that evaluations must be decided at the bargaining table and that test scores are too unreliable for use in such high-stakes decisions as firing, tenure and merit pay. Earlier this year UTLA proposed an evaluation system that would use test scores to identify areas of student need but not to judge teachers' performance.

In his ruling last month, Chalfant did not specify what measures of student achievement should be used or how they should be included in performance reviews.

Bill Lucia, president of EdVoice, the Sacramento group that brought the lawsuit on behalf of the parents, said he was pleased by the day's progress in setting deadlines.

"Ultimately, the kids are going to benefit," he said. "They are going to have better assurances that they'll have effective teachers and school site leaders."

teresa.watanabe@latimes.com

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