Test scores and teacher evaluations

Los Angeles schools must soon include state test scores in evaluations of teacher performance. It’s been a long battle to get to this point, and the whole effort was nearly upended by problematic legislation that, fortunately, never made it to the governor’s desk. But that hasn’t ended the debate. On Tuesday, the L.A. Unified school board is scheduled to consider a new evaluation policy that in one way would enhance the way teacher performance is measured and in another would set it back.

In the results-oriented world of school reform, it makes sense to look at student progress as one indicator of whether a teacher is doing a good job. Long-standing state law and a more recent court order demand that the district use results on the state’s annual standards exams as part of the teacher evaluation process, which the district plans to do by examining how much improvement individual students have shown over the year under each teacher.

But school board member Steve Zimmer wants the district to consider more than that when it measures student progress for teacher evaluations. His resolution doesn’t specify what those additional factors might be; possibilities include periodic assessments through the year as well as portfolios of student work.

Though the wording of the resolution is muddled and needs clarification before it can be passed — it could be read in a couple of different ways — the idea makes sense. Multiple studies have shown that there are limits to the information that can be gleaned from the state tests. They can help identify the most effective and least effective teachers, but they are not sensitive enough to differentiate among the 70% or so in the middle. Besides, without making evaluations hopelessly complicated, there are other important indicators of learning worth including.


This shouldn’t mean delaying the use of standardized test scores while the district figures out a more balanced process; other factors can be added later. And the board should roundly reject another provision in Zimmer’s resolution that calls for making the evaluation process subject to collective bargaining. United Teachers Los Angeles has steadfastly opposed and attempted to block efforts to introduce objective measurements in evaluations. The district should consult with teachers and offer them the chance to help shape how their work will be rated, but making the entire process contingent on labor negotiations is practically code for delaying the whole thing.

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