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Deasy orders test scores to count for 30% of teachers' evaluations

February 15, 2013 |  1:48 pm

Photo:  Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent John Deasy makes at his Beaudry headquarters office in March 2012. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times

L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy announced Friday that 30% of a teacher’s evaluation will be based on student standardized test scores, setting off another round of contention in the nation’s second-largest school system just weeks before a critical school board election.

Leaders of the teachers union have insisted that there should be no fixed percentage for how much student test scores should count in evaluations — and that test results should serve almost entirely as a guide toward improving instruction.

Deasy, in contrast, has insisted that there should be a fixed percentage for test scores in a teacher’s evaluation, and that poor scores could contribute directly to dismissal. Through his Friday memo, sent to district principals to guide their work, he was clearly asserting authority to act.

A recent agreement over evaluations between the union and the district does not include a fixed percentage, but it doesn’t prohibit one either.

Deasy’s move comes on the cusp of a March 5 school board election. Critics of the teachers union and its influence have made support of Deasy and his policies a paramount issue; they've raised more than $2.7 million to elect candidates who have pledged to stand behind the superintendent.

Union leaders have not made opposing Deasy a litmus test for endorsement, but many union activists are open about their desire to replace him.

There has been much confusion and uncertainty surrounding the pact since it was reached in December. Nonetheless, the school board ratified it Tuesday. Teachers in the union, United Teachers Los Angeles, approved the pact in January.

There is also persisting disagreement over the precise role that value-added measures would play in performance evaluations. Value-added formulas use students’ past academic performance, taking into account factors such as ethnicity and family income, to calculate a teacher’s effectiveness. The union agreed to permit value-added measures for the entire school to be included in performance reviews but not for individual teachers.

Teachers' value-added ratings are used in new evaluation systems in districts around the country. They make up 40% of the reviews in Washington, D.C., 35% in Tennessee and 15% in Chicago elementary schools.

Deasy said recently that for Los Angeles, 25% would be a reasonable figure for test scores and other data. The agreement says that these elements will not be "the sole, primary or controlling factors" in the final review. Fletcher had used that ambiguity in selling the agreement to union members, saying the L.A. deal minimized the effect of test scores in teacher evaluations.

Fletcher said Thursday that the agreement gives flexibility for principals, in collaboration with teachers, first to set individual goals and then to look at evidence, by multiple measures, to determine student achievement.

The two sides were under pressure to reach an agreement after L.A. County Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant ruled last year that the district was violating state law by not using test scores in teacher performance reviews.

Teachers union president Warren Fletcher said he would need to see Deasy’s plan before responding specifically, but added that, during negotiations, Deasy had proposed a 30% figure and the union had rejected it. Deasy then pulled the fixed-percentage idea off the table, which allowed the two sides to come to an agreement, Fletcher said.

“The superintendent doesn’t get to sign binding agreements and then pretend they’re not binding,” Fletcher said.

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-- Howard Blume

Photo: Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent John Deasy makes at his Beaudry headquarters office in March 2012. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times 

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