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).

Those who support the proposed measure of teacher evaluation view it as a means to eliminate poor teachers. “I greatly admire the many passionate teachers in this school district,” said Arts and Education Aid Council (AEAC) founder and Director Spike Dolomite Ward. “It may seem contradictory, but I also support releasing the names and scores of teachers, because I feel like UTLA has protected poor teachers for far too long. This may make it easier to get rid of dead weight.”

Ward is an artist, who co-founded AEAC in response to the lack of art in her child’s school.
While LAUSD is looking at using test scores to measure teachers, some other districts are not considering that route.

Palmdale Unified School District Superintendent Roger Gallizzi commented that he felt “30 to 50 percent” is a “reasonable” percentage for the role of student standardized test scores to be calculated into a teacher’s evaluation. “The (Palmdale) collective bargaining agreement (CBA) prohibits students’ performance on state standardized tests (from being) a part of teachers’ evaluations,” according to Gallizzi. “(That policy) has been in the CBA for as long as I can remember, well over 20 years.”

Approval of Superintendent Cortines’ policy, however, is viewed as troubling to UTLA President Duffy. “If we accept (this policy),” he warned, “it will lead to the further narrowing of the curriculum, teaching to the test, and the exclusion of critical-thinking skills, the arts and any other area not measured by standardized tests. Public education will be about building a perfect test score, not about a well-rounded, engaged, intellectually curious child.”