Teacher Martha Cedeno reads to first-graders at Miramonte Elementary… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)
L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy announced Friday that as much as 30% of a teacher's evaluation will be based on student test scores, setting off more contention in the nation's second-largest school system in the weeks before a critical Board of Education election.
Leaders of the teachers union have insisted that there should be no fixed percentage or expectation for how much standardized tests should count — and that test results should serve almost entirely as just one measure to improve instruction. Deasy, in contrast, has insisted that test scores should play a significant role in a teacher's evaluation and that poor scores could contribute directly to dismissal.
In a Friday memo explaining the evaluation process, Deasy set 30% as the goal and the maximum for how much test scores and other data should count.
In an interview, he emphasized that the underlying thrust is to develop an evaluation that improves the teaching corps and that data is part of the effort.
"The public has been demanding a better evaluation system for at least a decade. And teachers have repeatedly said to me what they need is a balanced way forward to help them get better and help them be accountable," Deasy said. "We do this for students every day. Now it's time to do this for teachers."
Deasy also reiterated that test scores would not be a "primary or controlling" factor in an evaluation, in keeping with the language of an agreement reached in December between L.A. Unified and its teachers union. Classroom observations and other factors also are part of the evaluation process.
But United Teachers Los Angeles President Warren Fletcher expressed immediate concern about Deasy's move. During negotiations, he said, the superintendent had proposed allotting 30% to test scores but the union rejected the plan. Deasy then pulled the idea off the table, which allowed the two sides to come to an agreement, Fletcher said. Teachers approved the pact last month.
"To see this percentage now being floated again is unacceptable," the union said in a statement.
Fletcher described the pact as allowing flexibility for principals, in collaboration with teachers, first to set individual goals and then to look at various measures to determine student achievement and overall teacher performance.
"The superintendent doesn't get to sign binding agreements and then pretend they're not binding," Fletcher said.
When Deasy settled on 30%, his decision was in line with research findings of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has examined teacher quality issues across the country. Some experts have challenged that work.
The test score component would include a rating for the school based on an analysis of all students' standardized test scores. Those "value-added" formulas, known within L.A. Unified as Academic Growth Over Time, can be used to rate a school or a teacher's effectiveness by comparing students' test scores with past performance. The method takes into account such factors as family income and ethnicity.
After an aggressive push by the Obama administration, individual value-added ratings for teachers have been added to reviews in many districts. They make up 40% of evaluations in Washington, D.C., 35% in Tennessee and 30% in Chicago.
But Los Angeles will use a different approach. The district will rely on raw test scores. A teacher's evaluation also may incorporate pass rates on the high school exit exam and graduation, attendance and suspension data.
Deasy's action was met Friday with reactions ranging from guarded to enthusiastic approval within a coalition of outside groups that have pushed for a new evaluation system. This coalition also has sought to counter union influence.
Elise Buik, chief executive of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, said weighing test scores 30% "is a reasonable number that everyone can be happy with."
The union and the district were under pressure to include student test data in evaluations after L.A. County Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant ruled last year that the system was violating state law by not using test scores in teacher performance reviews.
A lawsuit to enforce the law was brought by parents in Los Angeles, with support from the Sacramento-based EdVoice advocacy organization.
If the "actual progress" of students is taken into account under Deasy's plan, "it's a historic day for LAUSD," said Bill Lucia, the group's chief executive.
All of this is playing out against the backdrop of the upcoming March 5 election. The campaign for three school board seats has turned substantially into a contest between candidates who strongly back Deasy's policies and those more sympathetic toward the teachers union. Deasy supporters praise the superintendent for measures they say will improve the quality of teaching. The union has faulted Deasy for limiting job protections and said he has imposed unwise or unproven reforms.
In the upcoming election, the union and pro-Deasy forces are matched head to head in District 4, with several employee unions behind incumbent Steve Zimmer and a coalition of donors behind challenger Kate Anderson.
Anderson had high praise for Deasy's directive, saying it struck the right balance and that teachers and students would benefit.
Zimmer said that although he understands that principals need guidance, "I worry about anything that would cause resistance or delay in going forward. I hope this use of a percentage won't disrupt what had been a collaborative process."