Two Los Angeles education groups have offered separate teacher evaluation frameworks that they hope will help break the impasse between Los Angeles Unified and its teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles.
“There is frustration that, even after years of discussion, there still is no new system in Los Angeles,” Mike Stryer, a former Los Angeles Unified teacher who helped create the plan for Our Schools, Our Voice Coalition, said at a news briefing Thursday.
The biggest barrier – at this point seemingly uncrossable – is disagreement over the inclusion of student standardized test scores in the evaluation. The district uses a method, Academic Growth over Time, that measures a teacher’s impact on student test results. Superintendent John Deasy wants to include the AGT score in the evaluation, although he has not said how much weight it and other factors would have. UTLA remains adamantly opposed, and devoted considerable space in a 53-page evaluation proposal released in March to argue why, as unsuitable and inaccurate measures, “standardized test scores should play no part in high stakes decisions leading to dismissal.”
Both Our Schools, Our Voice Coalition – with parents, education advocates, and some Los Angeles teachers – and Teach Plus, a national network of teachers with a chapter in Los Angeles, support phasing in AGT, but with conditions. Among requirements under the Our Schools, Our Voice Coalition plan, AGT wouldn’t count unless a course’s curriculum matched the standardized tests and there was a statistically significant sample size. AGT wouldn’t count for probationary teachers. And all test results would remain confidential, inaccessible to the public and the press (no more providing data for publishing in the Los Angeles Times). Use of test scores would be phased in, counting 10 percent the first year, reaching a maximum 25 percent after three years. Teach Plus also advocates starting at 10 percent, working up to a third of a teacher’s evaluation, if benchmarks for test integrity and reliability are met, said John Lee, executive director of Teach Plus Los Angeles.
What the union, the district, and the two outside groups all agree on is that classroom observations should constitute the biggest piece of an evaluation: 60 percent under Our Schools, Our Voice’s plan and at least half, Deasy has indicated, under the district’s. The district is currently training principals in uniform observation rubrics and piloting observations in 100 schools involving 700 teachers. Teach Plus wants teachers to help evaluate their peers in areas requiring content expertise but in a capacity of providing classroom guidance, separate from a formal evaluation with consequences. UTLA favors an expanded use of Peer Assistance and Review, a panel of teachers who counsel teachers needing improvement and recommend dismissal for those who “have been given a real chance to improve but are unable to meet clearly defined standards.” Under the Our Schools, Our Voice recommendations, a mentor will be assigned to a teacher identified as needing intensive support for at least a full year.
Like the district’s eventual plan, Our Schools, Our Voice proposes student surveys (beginning in the third grade), parent surveys, and a measure of contributions to the community – each counting 5 percent. And Our Schools, Our Voice includes a new, intriguing element: a way to identify and reward, with up to a bonus 10 percent score, those teachers who help close the achievement gap for Hispanic students, African American students, and English learners in the bottom quarter who make marked progress.
The release of both organizations’ recommendations is intended to prod UTLA and the district to start talking. But at this point, leverage is more likely to come from the courts or the Legislature.
On Tuesday, in Los Angeles County Superior Court, there will be arguments in a suit brought by the nonprofit EdVoice on behalf of Los Angeles Unified and UTLA over the failure to include standardized tests in evaluations. EdVoice makes a good case that the Stull Act, the 40-year-old state law on teacher evaluations, requires test-score use, but districts like Los Angeles Unified have ignored the provision. A victory by EdVoice – and indirectly for Los Angeles Unified, though named as a defendant – might force UTLA to back off its unqualified opposition to the use of test scores.
Until now, Los Angeles Unified has argued that it has the exclusive right to determine the requirements for an evaluation. It exercised that right in setting up the pilot evaluations, despite the opposition of UTLA. But later this summer, the Senate will likely take up AB 5, sponsored by Democratic San Fernando Valley Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes, which would replace the Stull Act. As currently written, most aspects of an evaluation process would have to be negotiated with unions, which could stretch out adoption of a new system for months, if not years.