L.A. Unified presses union on test scores

The Los Angeles Unified School District will ask labor unions to adopt a new approach to teacher evaluations that would judge instructors partly by their ability to raise students’ test scores — a sudden and fundamental change in how the nation’s second-largest district assesses its educators.

The teachers union has for years staunchly resisted using student test data in instructors’ reviews.

The district’s actions come in response to a Times article on teacher effectiveness. The article was based on an analysis, called “value-added,” which measures teachers by analyzing their students’ performance on standardized tests. The approach has been embraced by education reformers as a way to bring objectivity to teacher evaluations.

John Deasy, the recently appointed deputy superintendent, sent a memo to the Board of Education on Friday afternoon spelling out the district’s value-added plans. He said he hopes that labor negotiations can be completed before The Times publishes a database containing the names and value-added rankings of more than 6,000 elementary school teachers. In the meantime, the district plans to use that data internally to help identify teachers who need extra training.

The Times plans to publish the database later this month. The newspaper has provided the opportunity for teachers to view their scores and comment on them prior to publication. So far, more than 1,200 teachers have received their scores.


Deasy said he had contacted the leadership of both United Teachers Los Angeles and the administrators union, and that he believed negotiations could be successful and swift.

Reached by cellphone, United Teachers Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy refused to respond to a reporter’s questions.

UTLA spokeswoman Marla Eby said Duffy was busy preparing for a speech to 800 union leaders Friday night at the union’s annual leadership conference in Palm Springs.

Administrators union head Judith Perez said in an interview that opening formal negotiations hasn’t been discussed but that she is aware of Deasy’s proposal and would be willing to sit down and hear about it.

Sources said Deasy had a series of meetings with city business leaders, district officials and Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, who urged Duffy to reconsider his stance.

In an interview, Deasy said, referring to the union, that he has “reason to believe that the leadership is desirous of finding a way to significantly improve evaluations and finding a … way forward that doesn’t embarrass teachers.”

“The district is available this evening to begin these talks,” he said. “We look forward to making decisions about value-added analysis with teachers and school leaders; not to teachers and school leaders,” he wrote in his memo.

The Times reported that Los Angeles Unified has long had the ability to use value-added analysis but has never done so. District leadership has largely shied away from it because of inertia and fear of the teachers union.

In California, officials have pledged to make value-added analysis at least 30% of teacher evaluations by 2013 in response to the requirements of the Obama administration’s competitive Race to the Top grant program. Union leadership declined to sign an agreement to abide by that plan.

In an interview last week, Duffy criticized value-added analysis because it depends on standardized test scores that he considers flawed. He said that he wasn’t opposed to principals using it confidentially to give teachers feedback, but that it had no place in a formal evaluation.

Value-added will “lead us down a road to destroy public education,” he said.

But other teachers unions throughout the country have agreed to use value-added as one of several measures to evaluate instructors.

In a meeting with the Times earlier this week, Weingarten said she has negotiated 54 contracts with local unions and their school districts that include some form of value-added analysis. She also said parents have a right to know if their child’s teacher received a satisfactory review.

Weingarten announced in January that her union would seek to revamp teachers evaluations. She said value-added accounts for 10% to 30% of teachers’ performance reviews and it is one of multiple measures to evaluate teachers. In New York City, for example, 20% of a teachers evaluation is based on a value-added rating, she said.

“Teacher evaluation has been broken for years,” Weingarten said. She said the current system is ineffective; most principals make brief, pre-announced visits to classrooms and merely fill out a checklist.