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Teacher evaluation bill might not pass muster with feds, official says

August 17, 2012 |  8:04 pm

A state bill to enhance teacher evaluations won’t necessarily pass federal muster and bring a bonanza of federal dollars to California, a spokesman for U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Friday.

The question of whether AB 5 would help California win a waiver from federal requirements for improving low-performing schools and bring $350 million to the cash-strapped state drew sharp disagreement this week in debate over the bill. The bill by Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar), which is headed to the Senate floor next week, would establish a statewide, uniform performance review system with more frequent classroom observations, more rigorous training of evaluators and a requirement that evidence of student academic growth be used as one measure of teacher effectiveness.

States win waivers from federal No Child Left Behind requirements if they adopt their own rigorous plans for effective teacher evaluation systems and improved student achievement.  In every successful waiver application so far, state standardized test scores are used in part to evaluate teachers, according to Peter Cunningham, U.S. assistant education secretary.

But AB 5 would effectively eliminate current state requirements to use that measure and instead requires negotiated agreement between unions and districts over how to gauge student academic growth. In the Los Angeles Unified School District, the teachers union has fiercely opposed a voluntary evaluation system that uses test scores.

“I don’t know what we will do if they have a proposal without state standardized test scores,” Cunningham said of a California application. “The waiver requires that a significant percentage of teacher evaluations be linked to student achievement. In California, the measure of statewide achievement is standardized test scores.”

Earlier this week, Fuentes said his bill could serve as a “key piece” of a successful waiver request. Sue Burr, executive director of the state board of education and Gov. Jerry Brown’s educational policy adviser, said initial federal feedback on whether the bill would meet requirements for a waiver was “favorable.”

But in a letter sent to Fuentes, 10 educational advocacy groups said they opposed AB 5 in part because they did not believe it would qualify for a federal waiver. Among other things, the letter said, the bill’s evaluation plan did not require state standardized test scores as one measure of student growth and did not have at least three levels of teacher effectiveness.

On Friday, Burr said federal officials also told her the bill’s plan needed three levels of effectiveness and more clarity on the extent to which student academic growth would count in a teacher’s review.

It was not clear what state assessments could be used to measure student growth besides the standardized tests, known as CSTs. Burr said high school exit exams, a test for students with disabilities and another exam for students who are not performing at grade level were the only other statewide assessments available, but they are not given to nearly as large a group of students as the CSTs.

In any case, Cunningham said that teacher evaluation systems are just one part of a state’s application for a federal waiver.

“This bill alone does not guarantee a waiver,” he said.

The school district strongly opposes the bill, in part because it would require collective bargaining.

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--Teresa Watanabe




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