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Report calls for more teacher training, limiting use of test scores

September 10, 2012 | 10:00 am

Test

The state needs to focus on recruiting, educating and retaining teachers if it wants to improve student academic performance, a state task force has concluded. Recent budget cuts, however, have pushed the state in the opposite direction, according to the task force's report, which was released Monday.

The advisory task force, which was brought together by state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing, also rejected making any link between students' standardized test scores and teachers' performance evaluations.

The Task Force on Educator Excellence included researchers, academics, elected officials, district officials, labor leaders, parents, teachers and principals.

The 90-page report repeatedly returned to the theme that teachers need better support and training from the beginning to the end of their careers. Such a focus would make them more effective and more likely to remain in a profession in which high turnover wastes money and hinders student learning, participants concluded.

The report also noted inequalities among school districts:

“Low-salary districts serve disproportionately high numbers of minority students and more than twice as many new English learners. These districts also have class sizes that are, on average, about 20% larger than those in high-salary districts, signaling that they also provide poorer working conditions. Furthermore, in both high-minority and high-poverty districts, there are much greater proportions of newly hired, inexperienced and uncredentialed teachers."

The task force suggested that new laws ensure that schools have “expert principals who provide support for instruction, time for collaboration and planning, collaborative leadership, reasonable class sizes, a trusting collegial environment and involvement in decision-making at the school.”

In rejecting the use of test scores for teacher evaluations, which is strongly opposed by many teachers unions, the report said studies show that such efforts produce results that “are very unreliable and often inaccurate at the individual teacher level.” But many districts, including Los Angeles Unified, are pushing to use scores as one measure to determine teacher effectiveness; the teachers union is challenging that effort in court.

The task-force chairs were Christopher J. Steinhauser, superintendent of the Long Beach Unified School District, and Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford University education professor.

Steinhauser’s district has enjoyed relatively good relations with its teachers union; he has made no effort to link student test scores to teacher evaluations in Long Beach Unified. 

Darling-Hammond is a longtime education researcher and was among the leading candidates to become U.S. Secretary of Education at the start of the Obama administration. (The job ultimately went to Arne Duncan.)

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-- Howard Blume

Photo: Mario Covarrubias, a sophomore at Banning High, contemplates a question on the California STAR exam. The test is used to measure schools' achievement each year. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

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