Hundreds of Los Angeles Unified School District teachers rallied in front of The Times on Tuesday evening, protesting what they said was unfair reporting in recent articles that used a statistical analysis to rank the performance of thousands of instructors.
The teachers, many of them wearing red union T-shirts, waved placards that said: “Shame on the L.A. Times” and “We Demand Fair Reporting.”
As organizers shouted through bullhorns and others stood on a podium that had been set up on the sidewalk, the procession marched in a circle in front of the newspaper building on 1st Street. They then listened as union leaders decried the newspaper’s analysis that used students’ test scores to measure teachers’ effectiveness.
“Teachers,” said United Teachers Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy, “are more than a test score.”
The protest came hours after the Board of Education unanimously authorized formal negotiations with both the teachers’ and administrators’ unions to develop a new evaluation system. The board wants to include students’ test scores as part of a teacher’s performance review, something union leaders have opposed because they believe that standardized test results are an unfair and incomplete measure of a teacher.
Among those marching on 1st Street was elementary school teacher Carrie Folker, who was with her two daughters, ages 5 and 11.
Folker’s name is included in an online database published by The Times that identified about 6,000 third- through fifth-grade teachers. The database ranked them by their effectiveness in improving students’ scores on standardized math and English tests during a seven-year period. Folker’s overall rating was “more effective than average,” the second-highest of the five rating categories.
“There’s a whole lot more that goes into educating children beyond a test score,” said Folker, who teaches at Mayberry Elementary School in Echo Park. “My students and my children are more than one test in one day.”
Her sentiments were echoed by other teachers, who said the methodology used by the newspaper failed to capture the complexity of teaching children with varying backgrounds.
“I feel, in a way, betrayed,” said Lee Bartoletti of Ivanhoe Elementary School in Silver Lake. “The Times has reneged on its mission of telling the truth.”
The reports published in The Times used a so-called value-added analysis to measure the performance of elementary school teachers. The approach estimates a teacher’s effectiveness by comparing a student’s year-to-year progress on standardized tests. It largely accounts for such things as students’ English fluency and poverty.
The value-added approach has been controversial among educators and researchers, but the method has increasingly been adopted across the nation. Proponents, including the Obama administration, say the analysis brings a measure of objectivity to teacher evaluations, which now rest almost exclusively on subjective factors, such as pre-announced administrator observations.
Tuesday’s protest was organized by United Teachers Los Angeles. In recent days, Duffy has left recorded messages at teachers’ homes, urging them to attend the rally to protest the articles that he described as an attack on teachers and their profession. Duffy has also called for a boycott of the newspaper.
“People and parents need to know there is no level playing field, because when you have 24 children in a class, everyone performs on a different level,” said retired teacher Dorothy Rose, 63, who responded to the union’s call to gather at the newspaper.
A union vice president told the school board earlier Tuesday that although evaluations need to be overhauled, “We do intend to push back pretty strongly on value-added.”
Gregg Solkovits, the teacher union’s secondary vice president, urged the board to act deliberately. “We want to do this right,” he said.
But board member Yolie Flores said the effort should be quick and comprehensive. “We cannot allow any student to have to wait” for an effective teacher, she said.
While the unions must agree to include value-added scores in evaluations, district officials have said they will include a value-added score for schools on campus report cards that are issued to the public.