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Teacher evaluation lawsuit hearing begins Tuesday

June 5, 2012 | 11:05 am

An education consultant helps a student with a math problem.

In a case that could transform teacher evaluations in California, a landmark parent lawsuit aimed at forcing L.A. Unified to use student test scores to review instructors is set for a hearing Tuesday.

The lawsuit demands that L.A. Unified follow a 40-year-old state law, known as the Stull Act, that requires all school districts to use evidence of student learning in job performance evaluations, including state standardized test scores.

But Scott Witlin, attorney for the parents, said L.A. Unified has routinely ignored the law; his legal team's analysis of 599 random teacher evaluations provided by the district found that only three linked teacher job performance to evidence of student progress in meeting state learning targets.

"Teachers are not being evaluated on the reason they have their jobs, which is whether they're helping the kids learn," Witlin said.

L.A. Unified is using student performance data in a volunteer evaluation program involving nearly 700 teachers and principals at 100 schools.

But the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, strongly opposes making the program mandatory at all campuses, saying student test scores are too unreliable for such high-stakes decisions as hiring and firing.

The lawsuit is part of a growing effort to use litigation to overcome union opposition to changes in the way teachers in the nation's second-largest school district are assigned, retained, evaluated and granted tenure.

In addition, three education groups have recently endorsed the use of student test scores in evaluation.

However, it is not clear who is funding the efforts to overturn longtime teacher evaluation rules. Witlin declined to identify the individuals or groups who organized the lawsuit on behalf of parents and retained his law firm, Barnes & Thornburg LLP, saying such information was confidential.


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Photo: An education consultant helps a student with a math problem. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times