By Ben Velderman
LOS ANGELES – Just when it appeared the debate over teacher evaluations had been settled in the Los Angeles Unified School District, Superintendent John Deasy re-ignited the controversy on Friday by announcing that 30 percent of an educator’s job rating will be based on student test scores.
Deasy’s decision immediately drew fire from United Teachers Los Angeles, the local teachers union. UTLA President Warren Fletcher called the 30 percent mark “unacceptable” and a violation the union’s binding agreement with the district, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Deasy defended his decision by noting that student test scores are not the “primary or controlling factor” in determining a teacher’s job performance, which is in keeping with the union-district agreement reached last December, the Times reports.
This new dust-up between Deasy and the UTLA is hardly surprising. Judging from media reports, the new evaluation agreement was written with such foggy language that nobody really knows what it actually requires.
UTLA President Fletcher told the Times that the evaluation deal allows flexibility for principals, in collaboration with teachers, first to set individual goals and then to look at various measures to determine student achievement and overall teacher performance.
When the agreement was ratified by the union last December, The Huffington Post reported that evaluations would be “based on a mix of raw data from the California Standards Test, robust classroom observation and school-level data based on the concept of Academic Growth over Time.”
If these media accounts of the evaluation agreement are accurate, it appears the union’s attorneys fell down on the job. The UTLA may have agreed to the elements of teacher evaluations, but by failing to assign a specific weight to each, it appears they left the door open for Deasy to take control of the process.
And by insisting that student test scores comprise 30 percent of a teacher’s rating, Deasy is making good use of his power.
Deasy’s 30 percent mark is “in line with research findings of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has examined teacher quality issues across the country,” the Times notes.
“The public has been demanding a better evaluation system for at least a decade,” Deasy told the Times. “And teachers have repeatedly said to me what they need is a balanced way forward to help them get better and help them be accountable. We do this for students every day. Now it’s time to do this for teachers.”
Parents and taxpayers will get a chance to weigh in on this controversy next month, when they will elect three members to the L.A. school board.
“The campaign for three school board seats has turned substantially into a contest between those who strongly back Deasy’s policies and those more sympathetic toward the teachers union,” the Times reports.
The UTLA will need to convince voters that teachers should be less accountable for student achievement than Deasy’s modest 30 percent mark.
That might be a tough sell, particularly with parents who want to make sure there are competent teachers in every classroom.