U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called Tuesday for an overhaul of the federal No Child Left Behind law and urged Los Angeles school management and teachers union leaders to negotiate a new contract that strengthens teacher evaluations.
“L.A. faces a perfect opportunity, not a perfect storm,” he said during a speech at a United Way of Greater Los Angeles education summit at the Los Angeles Convention Center. “The opportunity, I think, is breathtaking.... Please don’t squander it.”
Many of Duncan’s comments echoed remarks by President Obama earlier this month, when he said that the previous administration’s signature school accountability law classifies too many schools as academic failures and does not give enough flexibility to local and state educators.
During his speech, Duncan criticized No Child Left Behind as too narrowly focused on raw student test scores, noting it does not differentiate between schools with overall low achievement and schools where only one group of students is not proficient in a certain subject, and called for Congress to rewrite the law to measure how much students improve on standardized tests.
Duncan has said he wants teachers and schools to be partially judged on a “value-added” analysis that measures students against their past performance to predict future scores. The difference between the prediction and the students’ actual scores is the estimated value that the teacher added — or subtracted. It has been championed by Duncan and others as a way to bring some objectivity to teacher evaluations, although critics say it is too unreliable to use in such high-stakes decisions as firing or to determine pay.
Duncan also urged Los Angeles educators to use student growth as a factor in evaluations, something he and Obama have long advocated. While Duncan said it should only be one measure of an evaluation, he said it was a vital component.
“It makes sense that teachers and parents know how their children are advancing,” he said.
After The Times published a series of stories about value-added analysis in August, the city school board approved a resolution asking that student test scores be used in teacher evaluations, which currently rely almost exclusively on subjective measures.
Teachers union officials have said they are opposed to formally using test data to judge educators.
“The time is now to get off the well-worn path,” Duncan said.