Suit: Eval law requires student data

Two briefs filed this week in Los Angeles County Superior Court argue that Los Angeles Unified is violating a state law requiring that student progress, including results of standardized test scores, be included in teacher evaluations.

“By failing to assess teachers and administrators based on the progress of pupils and including that assessment as part of the annual evaluation, the LAUSD annually fails its statutory obligations to hundreds of thousands of children, their parents and guardians, taxpayers and the community it is responsible to serve,” states a brief bought by lawyers hired on behalf of seven unnamed parents of LAUSD students.

The suit, filed last year by the Sacramento-based nonprofit EdVoice against LAUSD Supt. John Deasy and school board members, and due to go to trial in June, comes amid debate in the Legislature whether to rewrite and strengthen the state’s 40-year-old teacher and principal evaluation law. Meanwhile, Deasy and United Teachers Los Angeles are battling over using value-added student test scores in evaluations that the district has been collecting for several years. The district is in the midst of a pilot project using test scores, though they don’t count toward actual evaluations.

The thrust of the EdVoice suit is that the current law, known as the Stull Act, though not perfect, is stronger than legislators and educators think; it’s just been ignored – and neutered – by contracts that LAUSD and most districts have agreed to with their teachers unions.

“Indeed, UTLA’s manifesto on the Stull Act states that its position is that ‘standardized test scores should play no part in high stakes decisions such as dismissal,’” the plaintiffs’ brief states. The district’s response is not due until May 1.

The Stull Act specifically requires that evaluations factor in “the progress of pupils” toward the standards of expected achievement at each grade level in each subject area that districts establish. In the late ’90s, when he was speaker of the state Assembly, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa sponsored an amendment to the Stull Act to reflect the adoption of state K-12 standards and California Standardized Tests. It said that teacher evaluations should take into consideration, among other factors, “progress of pupils toward state adopted academic content standards as measured by state adopted criterion referenced tests” – the CSTs.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed this week on his behalf, Villaraigosa’s lawyers state, “Possibly the most acute omission in LAUSD’s teacher evaluations policies is the absence of student achievement data. Of the 27 indicators of teacher performance in the LAUSD evaluation, not one asks whether students are making gains toward standards.”

Villaraigosa runs the mayor’s partnership schools within LAUSD and says he wants to improve teacher evaluations, but his schools are bound by the UTLA contract. Two years ago, 99.3 percent of LAUSD teachers got satisfactory evaluations, with all 27 indicators checked off on 79 percent of the evaluations, indicating no need for improvement.

Complying with the Stull Act is a state mandate, yet the EdVoice suit notes that LAUSD has not filed for compensation for teacher and principal evaluations for five years ­– an indication that the district’s records are sloppy, that the evaluations are perfunctory, or perhaps that they’re not being done for many tenured teachers.

The suit seeks to require that the district be required to incorporate measures of student progress, including, in applicable subjects, standardized test scores, and that the new evaluations be given to all teachers. For those teachers rated unsatisfactory, the suit asks that they be given specific recommendations for improvement.

One problem with the Stull Act is that it’s binary: teachers are either rated satisfactory or unsatisfactory. An effective system would include several ratings, so that it becomes a development tool for good teachers to get better. That’s the ultimate goal, said EdVoice President and CEO Bill Lucia.

Lucia said the suit isn’t intended to dictate how much standardized tests or other quantitative measures – local assessments, portfolios of student work, papers – should count toward an evaluation. That’s for local districts to determine, he said, among multiple measures.

But districts, until now, he said, have been “egregiously out of compliance.”

Lawyers for EdVoice quote several times from a deposition of Deasy that would appear to strengthen their case. “We do not currently construct evaluation of teachers by using how students do over time in terms of academic outcomes,” Deasy said at one point.

“It’s not used,” Deasy replied, when asked about using student academic outcomes in the teachers’ year-end performance evaluation.

At this point, the district and EdVoice are not in out-of-court settlement talks, and the district has been contesting plaintiffs’ request for documents needed in the case, Lucia said.

Author: John Fensterwald - Educated Guess

John Fensterwald, a journalist at the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, edits and co-writes "Thoughts on Public Education in California" (, one of the leading sources of California education policy reporting and opinion, which he founded in 2009. For 11 years before that, John wrote editorials for the Mercury News in San Jose, with a focus on education. He worked as a reporter, news editor and opinion editor for three newspapers in New Hampshire for two decades before receiving a Knight Fellowship at Stanford University in 1997 and heading West shortly thereafter. His wife is an elementary school teacher and his daughter attends the University California at Davis.

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