Student test score data proposed to evaluate L.A. teachers

Teachers union officials strongly opposed recommendations made to the Los Angeles school board Tuesday that call for using student test score data to evaluate instructors.

The suggestions came from a task force comprising Los Angeles Unified School District administrators, principals, teachers and union leaders that was created shortly before The Times published a series of articles last May examining the difficulties in firing and evaluating teachers.

The task force made several proposals, including giving more money to high-performing teachers willing to work in hard-to-staff schools, waiting up to four years before granting tenure to teachers and requiring principals and local superintendents to vouch for an instructor before they receive tenure, and revamping the evaluation process to include student test scores and parent and teacher feedback.

Politicians including President Obama and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have advocated using students’ standardized test performance to help determine teachers’ effectiveness. State Board of Education President Ted Mitchell, who headed the district’s task force, goes further, suggesting that value-added analysis — which uses several years of test scores to determine teacher quality — should eventually make up at least half of a teacher’s evaluation.

The task force did not specify how heavily test data should be weighed.

Leaders of United Teachers Los Angeles said they supported some of the task force’s recommendations, including improving the evaluation process, but also said that test score data are too unreliable to use in such high-stakes decisions as teachers’ performance reviews.

“We believe … that standardized test scores are not valid measures of student learning,” said A.J. Duffy, the teachers union president.

Duffy and other union leaders were part of the task force, but said there was not enough input from other teachers and noted that many of the recommendations would require either reaching an agreement with the union or changing state law.

“You got to understand,” Duffy said. “Unless you work with us, we’ll never get” to achieve reforms.

Duffy also accused task force members of lobbying state legislators in Sacramento over some of the recommendations before they were finalized, although members said they visited the capital only at the request of a single lawmaker.

Board members and schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines appeared eager to move forward with some of the recommendations. “I don’t think anybody would want [the task force] to just be an exercise,” said board member Yolie Flores.

But board member Tamar Galatzan seemed frustrated at the process and the lack of consensus between the task force and union members.

“We’re back to where we were a year ago,” she said.