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Los Angeles teachers union approves use of testing data in evaluations

January 19, 2013 |  5:19 pm

A landmark agreement to use student test scores for the first time to evaluate Los Angeles Unified instructors was approved by the teachers union Saturday.

United Teachers Los Angeles reported that 66% of 16,892 members who voted approved the agreement with the nation’s second-largest school district. L.A.  now joins Chicago, New York and many other cities in using testing data as one measure of a teacher’s effect on student academic progress.

In a victory for the union, however, the pact limits the use of a controversial method of analyzing a teacher’s effect on student test scores known as value-added. Instead, the two sides agreed to evaluate teachers with such data as raw state test scores and district assessments. L.A. Unified also plans to use a rigorous new classroom observation process, student and parent feedback and an educator’s contribution to the school community in evaluating teachers.

UTLA President Warren Fletcher hailed the vote as an endorsement of union efforts to forge an agreement that prevents the use of a teacher’s individual value-added score in evaluations. Schoolwide value-added scores will be used, however.

 “We worked hard at the bargaining table to craft a system that intelligently uses student data in the evaluation of teachers,” he said in a statement.

But at least some of those who voted for the agreement did so reluctantly. Cheryl Ortega, the union’s director of bilingual education, said she remained troubled by the inclusion of even limited use of the value-added method, which L.A. Unified calls Academic Growth Over Time. That method uses a complex statistical formula to attempt to isolate teachers’ effects on student performance by controlling for factors outside their control, such as poverty and English-language ability.

Ortega called the method “unreliable and unscientific,” reflecting a common view among teachers’ unions and some educators and researchers. But she ultimately voted for the pact because she feared the courts could impose an even worse system on teachers, she said.

“Everything in my being wanted to vote no,” Ortega said. “But it was the best deal that could be gotten.”

The agreement was prompted by an order last year by a Los County Superior Court judge, who ruled that L.A. Unified’s failure to use student testing data in teacher evaluations violated state law.

L.A. Unified Supt. John Deasy has said he planned to issue guidelines later this month with concrete details on how testing data will be incorporated into evaluations, along with how much they will count.

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