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L.A. teacher reviews should include student achievement, judge says

Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendant John Deasy

In a tentative ruling that could potentially transform California teacher evaluations, a Los Angeles judge ordered the L.A. Unified School District to use student academic progress in reviewing instructors.

L.A. County Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant upheld claims by a group of parents that the district was violating a 40-year-old state law, known as the Stull Act, which requires that teacher evaluations include measures of how well pupils are learning what the state expects them to know each year. The law was amended in 1999 to specifically require the use of state standardized test scores to measure student progress.

But Chalfant did not order the district to use student test scores in evaluations. Which specific measures are used, how they are incorporated into performance reviews, how the different elements are weighted and how administrators are trained in using student performance measures “may well be a matter subject to collective bargaining,” he wrote.

The ruling, while tentative, lends significant legal clout to a growing movement to use student test scores as part of a teacher’s performance review. Several states have begun incorporating them into teacher reviews and the Obama administration is also pushing school districts to use them.

Under L.A. Supt. John Deasy, about 700 teachers and principals are participating in a voluntary evaluation program using student test scores as one of four measures of teacher performance. The teachers union has opposed it.

In his ruling, Chalfant took to task the district’s current evaluation system that rates teachers as meeting performance targets, needing improvement or not meeting them. He noted that 99.3% of Los Angeles teachers received the highest performance ratings, yet that year state standardized test scores showed that only 45% of students performed at grade level for reading and 56% for math.

“These failures cannot be laid solely at the feet of district teachers,” Chalfant wrote. “Students must want to learn in order to do so, and some students can never be motivated to learn. But the district has an obligation to look at any and all means available to help improve the dismal results of its student population.”

The decision rejected arguments by United Teachers Los Angeles, Associated Administrators of Los Angeles and the Public Employment Relations Board that the court had no jurisdiction to rule on the issue. The three groups argued that the state employment relations board had exclusive jurisdiction to resolve contract disputes.

But Chalfant wrote that regardless of collective bargaining rights, the teachers, administrators and employment board “cannot avoid the district’s mandatory legal duty” to use pupil progress in evaluations. 

A hearing on the tentative decision is scheduled for Tuesday.

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-- Teresa Watanabe

Photo: Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. John Deasy last year addresses a group of about 100 parents and activists asking for reform of the teacher evaluation process. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

 
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