L.A. schools chief says district will adopt ‘value added’ approach

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Revamping teacher evaluations with the goal of helping instructors improve has become an urgent priority in the nation’s second-largest school district, Ramon C. Cortines, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, said in an address to administrators Wednesday.

Cortines said the district will develop and adopt a “value added” method that determines teachers’ and schools’ effectiveness based on student test scores. And he told a packed Hollywood High School auditorium that he’s committed to using these ratings for at least 30% of a teacher’s evaluation. The plan would require the consent of the teachers union.

In a later interview, Cortines also said he was disappointed that California lost its bid Tuesday for $700 million in federal Race to the Top school improvement grants. L.A. Unified’s share would have been $153 million.


But the district also learned late Tuesday that it will receive $52 million in unrelated federal grants.

Overall, the veteran educator, who has led five school systems and plans to retire in 2011, used his 30-minute speech to celebrate progress at various schools, including Hollywood High, and challenge educators to do more.

Linking student test scores to individual teachers became an especially heated topic after The Times published a series of stories based on a value-added analysis of teachers and schools. The Times also plans to publish this month a database with the rankings of about 6,000 third- through fifth-grade teachers.

“It is critical that we look at multiple measures to support our employees,” Cortines said, and “how value added fits into our overall strategy.”

The district plans to publish such data about schools “once this information has been validated,” but not the scores for individuals. “Supporting all employees is about creating a culture of collaboration and trust,” he said, echoing recent comments by his deputy, John Deasy.

Cortines talked later about being part of a five-member state delegation that met with federal evaluators for the Race to the Top funding bid.


“I was grilled, no doubt, on bringing the bargaining units along” on accepting test scores as part of evaluations, he said.

The winning state applications all scored at least 440 on a scale of 500; California fell 17 points short, and union buy-in could have put it over the top. But evaluators most consistently dinged the state for an out-of-date student data system. That problem alone cost it 14 points.

Rapidly and fully funding a better data system has long been a sticking point between state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who wasn’t won over by O’Connell’s proposals to pay for such a system.

The state also consistently lost points for perceived shortcomings in developing and evaluating principals, and its plans for turning around persistently low-performing schools.

Cortines said some evaluators seemed to favor aggressive approaches, such as closing schools, that have a mixed record.

But L.A. Unified will receive another competitive federal grant, aimed at troubled schools, that was scored by state evaluators.


L.A. Unified was initially shut out because the state’s scoring system gave the district virtually no chance against smaller school systems. But the state Board of Education agreed to reconsider. This week, the board lowered some award amounts to others, and federal officials released funds previously held in reserve.

The biggest beneficiary will be five schools under the purview of L. A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. His nonprofit, which runs 15 schools within L.A. Unified, qualified for more than half of the $52 million; he personally lobbied the state board on the matter.

Five other district schools will split the balance.

Cortines had wanted some of this money for Fremont High, where he’d ordered all staff to reinterview for jobs, resulting in massive turnover. Fremont, however, won’t receive money because its test scores, although very low, have improved too much to qualify.

As he concluded his address, the superintendent lost his composure as he expressed thanks to those assembled for the opportunity to work with them. He stopped, unable to continue, and the audience responded with a 45-second standing ovation.