L.A. civic leaders urge LAUSD, union to revamp teacher evaluations

A group of business and civic leaders is urging the Los Angeles school district and teachers union to quickly develop a new evaluation system that incorporates student test score data and gives families more access to information about instructors.

“This system should be transparent and the results of the teacher evaluations should be made available to parents,” said a letter signed by former U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, as well as the presidents of both the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce and United Way of Greater L.A., and 18 other people.

The civic group also endorsed including value-added analysis — a statistical method that links student test scores to their teachers — in teacher performance reviews and cited a Times series on the subject as one reason they decided to weigh in.

The letter, dated Tuesday, came as the union and school district say they want to begin formal negotiations over a new teacher evaluation system.

During a Tuesday Board of Education meeting many members said they wanted to revamp evaluations, which now depend almost exclusively on observations and other subjective measures. But they postponed a vote on a motion to include value-added analysis in evaluations and begin formal negotiations. That vote is scheduled for Thursday.

A growing number of districts nationwide are using value-added analysis, which employs a student’s performance on standardized tests to estimate what effect teachers have on their education — whether they added to or subtracted from the student’s growth. The Obama administration has also made the controversial approach a central part of its educational reform agenda, although officials also note that it only should be part of a teacher’s overall review.

Los Angeles teacher union leaders have long said that teacher evaluations need to be overhauled. But they have expressed reservations about value-added analysis, saying it is unreliable because it depends on flawed standardized test results.

“We’ve been looking at a huge body of literature on value-added and it’s [bad],” said United Teachers Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy, who added he did not have a response to the letter.

Several people who signed the letter said they were hoping that it would put pressure on the Los Angeles Unified School District and the teachers union.

“The fact that the board has yet to formally authorize anything is, quite frankly, disturbing,” said Elise Buik, the president and chief executive officer of United Way of Greater Los Angeles.

John Deasy, the newly appointed deputy superintendent, has said that the district plans to begin issuing confidential value-added scores to employees by October and will include a value-added score on school report cards that are issued to the public.

The letter did not recommend how much weight to place on value-added in evaluations, but advocated also incorporating other measures, including peer and administrator observations.

“We believe that the vast majority of teachers want the best for their students but require the data and support to continuously help them improve their teaching,” the letter said.

Board members said they welcomed the extra input.

“I’m encouraged by civic leaders weighing in,” Steve Zimmer said. “It’s my hope they continue to be engaged in the many issues that are facing the district.”