Algebra teacher Steven Ou assists Carlos Leon at Artesia High School in… (Bob Chamberlin )
Over the objections of teachers and administrators groups, the Los Angeles Unified School District was ordered Tuesday to use students' academic achievement in their teachers' evaluations.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant affirmed his preliminary ruling this week, finding that the district has violated a 40-year-old state law, known as the Stull Act, requiring that evaluations of teachers and principals include measures of how much students learn what the state and district expects them to know.
Chalfant ruled that the Stull Act requires the district to use California standardized test scores in determining student achievement. But he gave the district wide discretion in deciding which yardsticks to use to judge progress in learning its local academic standards.
The judge declined to rule on a key issue — how much the district and teachers must negotiate, if at all, in deciding which measures to use to evaluate instructors.
United Teachers Los Angeles and the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles said they believed Chalfant left the matter entirely to the negotiating table.
In a statement, UTLA President Warren Fletcher said he was pleased that the judge "acknowledged that the teacher evaluation system for LAUSD must be collectively bargained and that the final product must be agreed on by both the school district and the teachers."
He also reiterated the union's opposition to the district's use of Academic Growth over Time data, which is based on state standardized test scores and is being used to evaluate teachers and principals in a voluntary program. Fletcher called the system "inaccurate and volatile."
But Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy has said he believes the district has the right to decide on the substance of its evaluation system without negotiations.
L.A. Unified attorney Barry Green unsuccessfully asked Chalfant to affirm that position Tuesday — a request that drew a sharp retort from UTLA attorney Jesus Quinonez.
"It's inappropriate, it's wrong," Quinonez said.
Scott Witlin, the attorney who represents the unidentified parents in the case, said he feared the union would "attempt to use the collective bargaining process to frustrate the implementation of the law."
He asked Chalfant to set a deadline for compliance, and the judge ordered all parties to negotiate one before the next court hearing July 24. Bill Lucia, president of the Sacramento-based EdVoice that brought the lawsuit, said the group would ask for a Sept. 1 deadline.
The court order to the nation's second-largest school district could accelerate a growing movement to include measures of pupils' academic progress in instructors' reviews. At least 24 states have revamped their teacher evaluations to include them, but California's powerful teachers unions have generally opposed such plans, arguing that test scores are too unreliable to use for such major decisions as merit pay, hiring and firing.
The court ruling, supporters said, will change that.
"It's a signal that the intransigence of the status quo, particularly in California, is not going to prevail," said Lucia of the educational advocacy group. "Parents are fed up with adults hiding behind excuses to ignore the progress of children."
Deasy and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who wrote a 1999 amendment to the Stull Act requiring the use of state standardized test scores in teacher reviews, also hailed the decision.
"This decision today sows the seeds of change for the state's public schools," Villaraigosa said in a statement, adding that L.A. Unified was particularly failing to properly educate poor, minority students.
Deasy said the ruling would accelerate efforts to expand the district's new performance review system from a limited, voluntary one to a mandatory one across all schools — an effort that UTLA has contested with an unfair labor complaint. "We feel the work we are doing in LAUSD is very much affirmed by the decision," he said.
David Wu was one of several teachers who attended the court hearing in support of the lawsuit.
"Although it may be hard to believe, there are many teachers that agree with the fact that student data should and can be one part of the formal teacher evaluation method," said Wu, a Dorsey High School chemistry teacher. "I think this will help celebrate the successes of our students and also give support to teachers who are struggling, because the bottom line is about students and student progress."
UTLA will wait to review the ruling before deciding whether to appeal, a spokeswoman said.
In his ruling, Chalfant said that L.A. Unified's current review system "provides little meaningful evaluation." He noted that 99.3% of teachers received the district's highest rating in 2009-10, yet state standardized test scores that year showed that only 45% of students performed at grade level in reading and 56% in math.