California Board of Education addresses teacher evaluation issue

Reporting from Sacramento

The state Board of Education took up the controversial issue of teacher evaluations Wednesday, unanimously voting to create an online database to share information about local, state and national efforts to measure educators’ effectiveness.

The board also asked the Los Angeles, Long Beach and Fresno school districts to propose specific ways the state can support local efforts to create more meaningful evaluation tools, including the value-added method of using students’ test scores to rate teacher performance.

“This is a huge step forward,” said board member Ben Austin, who proposed the resolution at the Sacramento meeting. “Including value-added as a component is just common sense, if we take seriously the notion that education is about kids and not grownups.”

Wednesday’s move was a step forward for the board, which typically doesn’t weigh in on local policy matters.

The board’s 11 members, who are appointed by the governor to four-year terms, set state educational policy. But past boards have focused mainly on technical issues, such as ensuring state and local compliance with education laws, rather than policy, according to John E. Deasy, Los Angeles Unified School District’s deputy superintendent.

“That’s huge,” Deasy said. “No question we are at a historic moment.”

Debate over the issue of teacher evaluations intensified in Los Angeles and around the nation after The Times wrote a series of articles and published a database using the value-added method to rank about 6,000 third- through fifth- grade teachers.

The California Teachers Assn. and the Los Angeles teachers union have opposed use of the value-added method, saying that students’ test scores do not accurately reflect a teacher’s effectiveness. Pixie Hayward-Schickele of the California Teachers Assn. said any board action on teacher performance reviews should be taken cautiously and only after all involved parties have a chance to weigh in. Teacher evaluations fall under collective bargaining agreements.

In his presentation to the board, Deasy talked about Los Angeles’ efforts, launched last year, to improve teacher effectiveness by strengthening evaluation systems and reviewing tenure, merit pay and professional development programs.

He told board members that multiple measures would be used in the district’s new and evolving evaluation system. Classroom observations of the teacher by a trained evaluator were the most important, he said, but value-added analysis and community feedback through surveys of parents, students and teachers would also be used.

“This is very much a civil rights issue for us in L.A.,” he said, adding that the district was particularly concerned about boosting the academic performance of students in poor and marginalized neighborhoods. The district and the teachers union have agreed to negotiate a new evaluation system.

Long Beach Unified School District officials discussed their two evaluation systems, one approved by the teachers union and one a voluntary pilot program, that both use test scores as analytical tools.

Fresno educators told board members about growing collaboration between district administrators and the teachers union — two parties once mired in deep distrust — to improve teacher effectiveness. One tool Fresno uses is videotaping teachers to study both strengths and weaknesses.

“We are beginning to set the stage for change,” said board member David Lopez. “What we have in place is not working as well as it should. Our students deserve better and so do parents.”