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LAUSD teachers could be judged by student test scores

Joseph Wright | 9/1/2010, 5 p.m.

The superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) believes that student test scores should be part of teachers' evaluations.

Ramon C. Cortines, who is retiring next year, told administrators recently that the district will develop a new evaluation system, and he wants at least 30 percent of a teacher's evaluation based on the scores. Currently, pupils' California Standardized Test (CST) scores do not figure in the instructors' evaluations.

The teachers' union, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), would have to approve such a plan according its President A.J. Duffy. He said the district needs to examine data before moving forward with such a plan.

LAUSD officials say they want to work with teachers on the matter, rather than work against them, and are trying to begin negotiations to come to some agreement.

"Students are not graded on the tests (CSTs) (which) would be part of a teacher's evaluation (the tests have no bearing on the students' grade progression, high school graduation, or college acceptance), and so they don't give a full effort," Duffy said.

The UTLA president also pointed out that only math and English scores in standardized tests are considered by federal and state education official, when determining effectiveness of a school or district. Therefore, he noted, only 37 percent of LAUSD teachers can be evaluated.

John Deasy, LAUSD deputy superintendent, confirmed that CST scores do not count in local district grading of students. "In this proposal (of Superinten-dent Cortines)," Deasy says, "the test to be used is still in discussion."

LAUSD board member Steve Zimmer also expressed concern about the proposed policy. "If you are to give validity to the value-added approach to measure a teacher's performance," Zimmer warns, "the prerequisite is that the standardized test is a valid measure of a student's learning and knowledge, and that in itself is controversial. To say it is the most important, or the sole measure, is without any validation in the mainstream academic conversation on teacher effectiveness."

The union charges that Superintendent Cortines' policy, if adopted, invalidates every other element of teaching and has consequences that extend far beyond an individual teacher's accountability. Additionally, UTLA contends any LAUSD teacher who wants to continue to teach in the district would have to adjust his or her priorities with regard to the importance they place on standardized test preparation with students.

Further, the policy's proposed practice of making teachers' evaluation scores accessible to the general public on the Internet is another concern.

"I favor families having access to information about a school's performance and even to aspects of a teacher's performance, but I have reservations about whether this should be played out in public. We don't publish a database of every infraction a police officer has, or the attendance records of our firefighters," Zimmer said.

UTLA stresses that to build a strong school system, teacher evaluations should be overhauled to create a comprehensive definition of what effective classroom instruction is. "This includes creating a definition of student learning," Duffy emphasized. "It is much more than a standardized test score, which measures only 15 percent of what is taught in class." Duffy also pointed out that test scores must be reinforced by various indicators (e.g., teacher observation of students, grades, performance-based tasks, and portfolios of students work).