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Suit filed to make L.A. teacher evaluations include student data

November 1, 2011 |  3:31 pm

L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy

Advocates went forward Tuesday with a lawsuit alleging that the Los Angeles Unified School District has failed to comply with state laws requiring that teachers and principals should be evaluated, in part, on student academic progress.

The suit, filed by the Barnes & Thornburg law firm in conjunction with the Sacramento-based advocacy group EdVoice, asserts that L.A. Unified must comply immediately with the Stull Act, which established guidelines for assessing teachers and principals after its passage in 1971.

“The district has never obeyed the Stull Act's mandate,” the suit states, while blaming both the school system and unions representing teachers and administrators. (In the litigation, both types of employees are referred to as “certificated” because they hold teaching credentials). “In collusion with the district‘s governing boards and superintendents," the suit alleges, "these associations have made it impossible for the district to lawfully evaluate certificated personnel and identify and require specific corrective action to retrain, transfer, suspend, or dismiss unsatisfactory certificated personnel based, in part, on evidence which demonstrates whether or not students are learning."

For their part, union leaders have joined most experts and officials in criticizing the evaluation process as providing inadequate support for teachers. But the unions have not agreed to the district’s plan for a new system that incorporates students’ standardized test scores. The unions and some experts have criticized standardized test results as unreliable and too narrowly focused for use in personnel decisions.

The parties suing the district include unnamed parents and students and Alice Callaghan, a charter-school operator and longtime community activist. The parties being sued are L.A. Unified, school board members, the unions representing teachers and administrators, and the California Public Employment Relations Board, which has jurisdiction over the collective bargaining process.

L.A. County Superior Court Judge James Chalfant denied a request to bar immediately any new collective bargaining agreements that do not comply with the Stull Act. He also declined to order the district to comply with the Stull Act. Instead, the issue will proceed to a trial on the merits.

The lawsuit cites remarks of L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy, made in other forums, to buttress its claims.

“I would argue that nobody has told me that the current system of evaluation … helps anybody,” Deasy is quoted as saying. “It is fundamentally useless. It does not actually help you get better at [your] work and it doesn't tell you how well you're doing.”

Deasy has said the district intends to comply with the Stull Act, but the lawsuit also criticizes his voluntary evaluation program, which takes student test scores into account.

“A pilot may have been appropriate 39 or even 35 years ago, but not after decades of dereliction of duty and child neglect,” the suit states. “Moreover, only approximately 3% of the certificated personnel are participating in the pilot program. Thus, it does not address the other 97% currently not in the pilot program.”

The suit also compares employee ratings to student academic achievement: “At the high school level, 89% of the teachers were rated as ‘highly qualified,’ but 63% of the children tested were not proficient in English Language Arts, and 84% of the children tested were not proficient in Math.”

Critics of such comparisons have said it’s simplistic to link student performance directly with the work of teachers without allowing for other factors that affect student learning.


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-- Howard Blume

Photo: L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy is locked in a stalemate with the teachers union over performance reviews. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times