Guest Column: Administrators must collect, use data

I regularly hear about teachers at our schools around town. The topics discussed often are the few poor teachers, graded tests held at school, tests unrelated to classroom discussions or textbooks, too much or too little homework, etc. Some of these anecdotes should be turned into official documentation, but parents often fear retribution or being labeled a “complaining parent.”

The community also knows that the current La Cañada Unified School District evaluations generally give the problem teachers a passing grade — or even the top rating. We need the school board to require the district to collect the value-added, quarterly benchmark data, then survey data regularly and act on the information.

Test data: The district recently purchased software to compute value-added scores based on STAR testing and analyze quarterly benchmark tests. This software compares the performance of each student at the beginning and end of each year. For example, moving up from 50th percentile to 80th is good, but dropping to 30th percentile is bad. If the overwhelming numbers of students have the same trend, up or down, that is a good indicator of the effectiveness of the teacher.

The administrators need to be committed to acting on value-added scores and benchmark results. When a teacher receives a strongly negative value-added score or a classroom gets low benchmark scores, that teacher should be placed into a retraining program. The school board needs to make certain that these steps are taken. It should receive frequent reports on the actions taken by the administrators to ensure that our children get the education they deserve.

Surveys: Customer satisfaction surveys need to be given to parents and students regularly because we cannot afford to lose the whole school year waiting for valued-added scores. The questions on these surveys can be based on the Gates Foundation Survey research. Thankfully, the Gates people did the work, and proved that it aligned with yearly value-added test results with a high degree of confidence. They proved that, with the right questions, students as young as 10 can accurately predict the effectiveness of their teachers. We need to collect those surveys several times a year. Then the administrators can act and follow up with classroom visits, conversations with students, aids, or review of tests, etc. Again, the school board needs to make certain these steps are taken so our children get the education they deserve.

In the end, simply collecting data is not sufficient. Administrators must act. This shouldn’t be the parent’s job, and many are scared. Many parents do not feel the district has done enough to retrain or remove deficient teachers. The parent community needs to know that their principals are working to dismiss bad teachers. I can't tell you how many parents have told me, “Why complain? I will be labeled as a complainer, and my principal won't do anything.” This needs to change.

Why do I feel so strongly about this? In 12 months, my son has a 50% chance of being assigned to a teacher that has a reputation for demeaning students, not allowing graded tests to be taken home for review, frequently not allowing students to look at the last graded test until the day before the next test, etc. This teacher is notorious among the parents, as are a few others. My child’s education shouldn’t be a gamble.

Two seats are up for election in November. I encourage voters to meet the current school board members and the school board candidates: Andrew Blumenfeld, Jeanne Broberg, Ernest Koeppen and Ellen Multari. Email them and find out who is responsive to your concerns.

BELINDA RANDOLPH is a La Cañada resident and parent of two LCUSD students. She also works on the next Mars rover at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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