Two L.A. education groups back test scores as part of teacher reviews

Pressure to improve teacher evaluations deepened Thursday, when two separate Los Angeles education groups endorsed the use of student test scores as one measure to review instructors — a controversial element that many unions have fought.

The two proposals for a new teacher evaluation system were aimed at breaking what the groups view as a troubling stalemate between the Los Angeles Unified School District and its union, United Teachers Los Angeles. Efforts to improve ways to assess teachers have been stalled in part over disagreement about using students’ academic achievement as measured by standardized test scores.

The district wants to use test score data as one of several measures in its new evaluation system, as it is currently doing in a voluntary program involving nearly 700 teachers and administrators at more than 100 schools. But UTLA and the California Teachers Assn. have opposed using such data in formal evaluations, calling it an unreliable measure of teacher effectiveness.

Teachers involved in both new proposals said it was urgent to break the impasse and move forward —especially as a parent lawsuit aiming to force L.A. Unified to use student achievement data in evaluations is expected to go to trial next week.

“We have to step up to the plate and make things work or it’s going to keep disintegrating,” said Sujata Bhatt, a fifth-grade teacher at Grand View Elementary School in Los Angeles who helped craft one of the proposals. “I’d rather be part of the group defining what the variables are rather than say no, no, no.”

UTLA President Warren Fletcher was not available for comment. Drew Furedi, an L.A. Unified official overseeing the district’s evaluation system, said he could not comment on the proposals because he hadn’t seen them yet, but he welcomed their support for multiple measures of teacher effectiveness, including test score data.

The proposals were unveiled by Teach Plus Los Angeles, a network of more than 800 L.A. Unified teachers, and Our Schools, Our Voice, a coalition of L.A. Unified teachers, parents and community members.

In addition, a third organization — Educators 4 Excellence, which represents more than 800 teachers, is also planning to endorse the use of student achievement data when it unveils its own proposal for a new teacher evaluation system in coming weeks.

School districts around the country are revamping the way teachers are evaluated, with many using student test scores as one measure of effectiveness. The Obama administration has pushed districts — and states — to adopt these kinds of reviews.

In Los Angeles, teachers who helped craft both proposals said they attempted to ensure that all evaluation measures were reliable and fair.

The Our Schools, Our Voice proposal would phase in the weight of test score data, which would count for a maximum of 25% of the evaluation after two years. But the measure would take into account a student’s English language ability and only count if the curriculum matched the tested material, if the student sample was statistically significant and if students attended the teacher’s class at least 85% of the time. In addition, the school’s overall growth in student performance could be used instead of the teacher’s individual score if it was higher during the first two years.

Observations, which would count for 60% of the evaluation, would be conducted by an administrator and a teacher trained to perform them.

The evaluation would also take into consideration feedback from students and parents and a teacher’s contributions to the school community.

And teachers who help reduce the achievement gap between black and Latino students and their white peers would receive a 10% bonus.

In the Teach Plus proposal, student academic achievement initially would count for 10% of the evaluation. It would rise to a maximum 33% only if the district takes specific steps to address teacher concerns over the data’s reliability — such as protections against cheating.

Bhatt said the current system doesn’t help teachers improve or students grow. In her 10 years of teaching, she said, the most substantial evaluation she ever received dinged her for a messy desk and for teaching the wrong short vowels.

“I, as a teacher, want to be held accountable,” she said.