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Union OKs evals' use of scores

Student performance will affect L.A. teachers' standing to some extent, but so-called value-added system won't be used.

January 20, 2013|Teresa Watanabe
  • Betty Forrester, left, Lisa Karahahlios and Pamela Gibberman tally ballots at United Teachers Los Angeles headquarters.
Betty Forrester, left, Lisa Karahahlios and Pamela Gibberman tally ballots… (Irfan Khan, Los Angeles…)

A landmark agreement to use student test scores for the first time in evaluating Los Angeles Unified teachers was approved by union members Saturday.

United Teachers Los Angeles reported that 66% of 16,892 members who voted approved the agreement with the nation's second-largest school district. L.A. Unified now joins Chicago, New York and many other cities in using testing data as one measure of a teacher's effect on student academic progress. About half the union's 34,000 members voted.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday, January 21, 2013 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 Local Desk 1 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Teacher evaluations: A caption that accompanied an article in the Jan. 20 California section about members of United Teachers Los Angeles approving the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations misspelled Lisa Karahalios' name as Karahahlios.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, January 27, 2013 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 Local Desk 1 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
Teacher evaluations: The caption for a photo that accompanied an article in the Jan. 20 California section about members of United Teachers Los Angeles approving the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations misspelled Lisa Karahalios' name as Karahahlios.

In a victory for the union, however, the pact limits the use of a controversial method of analyzing a teacher's impact on student learning known as value-added. Instead, the two sides agreed to evaluate teachers with such data as raw state test scores, district assessments, high school exit exams and rates of attendance, graduation, suspensions and course completion.

The agreement will force the district to alter its new evaluation system, which was to use a teacher's individual value-added score along with a rigorous new observation process, student and parent feedback and an educator's contribution to the school community. Parts of the new performance reviews are currently being tested in the district's 1,300 schools.

UTLA President Warren Fletcher hailed the vote as an endorsement of union efforts to prevent the use of individual value-added scores in evaluations. Schoolwide value-added scores will be used, however.

"We worked hard at the bargaining table to craft a system that intelligently uses student data in the evaluation of teachers," he said.

L.A. Unified Supt. John Deasy said he was gratified by what he called a larger-than-expected margin of victory.

"It's a sign that members really want us to begin moving forward with a more improved way around evaluations," he said.

Deasy said he planned to unveil details of how testing data will be incorporated into teacher evaluations in the next week. The guidelines will include recommendations for how much weight to give test scores; he has said in the past that it should count for about 30%.

The agreement was prompted by a court order last year by Los Angeles County Superior Judge James C. Chalfant, who ruled that L.A. Unified's failure to use student test scores to help measure a teacher's performance violated state law.

At least some of those who voted for the agreement did so reluctantly.

Cheryl Ortega, the union's director of bilingual education, said she remained troubled by the inclusion of an even limited use of the value-added method, which L.A. Unified calls Academic Growth Over Time. That method uses a complex statistical formula to attempt to isolate a teacher's effect on student performance by controlling for such factors as poverty and English-language ability.

Ortega called the method "unreliable and unscientific," reflecting a common view among teachers unions and some educators and researchers. But she ultimately voted for the pact because she feared the courts could impose an even worse system on teachers, she said.

"Everything in my being wanted to vote no," Ortega said. "But it was the best deal that could be gotten."

Monica Ratliff, a fifth-grade teacher at San Pedro Elementary, has similar concerns about value-added and voted no. Ratliff, a Los Angeles school board candidate who was recently elected to the union's House of Representatives, said she frequently reviews raw test scores for concrete information about specific skills her students are struggling with, such as grammar or reading comprehension. But she said value-added scores were useless in telling her where to improve and that she feared the agreement would open the door to wider use of them.

Ratliff said she was also concerned about using schoolwide test scores to judge her individual performance.

"I didn't necessarily think what was negotiated was beneficial for an individual teacher," she said.

Fletcher said the union chose to delay the ratification vote until after winter break to give members more than a month to study, discuss and debate the proposed agreement.

"We felt the agreement was the best route to comply with the court order," he said. "But some members had principled disagreement, and we wanted to get that out too."

Across the country, school districts are changing the way they review teachers using test scores as one measure of their effectiveness.

The Obama administration has promoted the system, setting up a competitive grant program that encouraged the move. Unions, however, have only reluctantly obliged; they mostly have opposed weighting evaluations heavily on test scores.

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teresa.watanabe@latimes.com

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