Judge orders Los Angeles school district to include student achievement measures in evaluation of teachers
The Los Angeles Times reports that a preliminary ruling from the Los Angeles superior court supports charges that the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is violating the law by not using student performance to review teachers. This ruling could potentially transform California teacher evaluations by forcing evaluations to be based on performance records like standardized test scores.
On June 11, 2012, County Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant ordered LAUSD to use students’ academic achievement in reviewing its instructors. Judge Chalfant upheld the contentions made by a group of parents that the district had violated a 40-year-old state law, the Stull Act, requiring that teacher evaluations include measures of how well pupils are learning what the state and district expects them to know each year. The law was amended in 1999 to specifically require the use of state standardized test scores as one measure.
Judge Chalfant said the law required the district to use California standardized test scores to determine how well students have mastered state-required material. However, he gave the district wide discretion to determine how to measure pupil progress in meeting its own local academic expectations. The specific measures used, how they are incorporated into performance reviews, how the different elements are weighted, and how administrators are trained in using them “may well be a matter subject to collective bargaining,” he wrote.
The preliminary ruling lends significant legal clout to a growing movement to use students’ test scores as part of a teacher’s performance review. Several states have begun to incorporate test scores into teachers’ reviews and the Obama administration is also pushing school districts to use this measure.
In his tentative ruling, Judge Chalfant examined the district’s current evaluation system. He noted that 99.3% of Los Angeles teachers received the highest performance ratings in 2009-2010, but California’s overall state standardized test scores that same year showed that only 45% of students performed at grade level in reading and 56% in math.
“These failures cannot be laid solely at the feet of district teachers,” Chalfant wrote. “Students must want to learn in order to do so, and some students can never be motivated to learn. But the district has an obligation to look at any and all means available to help improve the dismal results of its student population.”
The decision rejected arguments by United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, and the Public Employment Relations Board that the court had no jurisdiction to rule on the issue. The three groups argued that the state employment relations board had exclusive jurisdiction to resolve contract disputes. However, Judge Chalfant wrote that regardless of collective bargaining rights, the teachers, administrators and employment board “cannot avoid the district’s mandatory legal duty” to use students’ progress in evaluations.
A hearing on the tentative decision was scheduled for June 12th.
Bill Lucia, president of EdVoice, a Sacramento-based educational advocacy group that brought the lawsuit on behalf of the unidentified parents, said the ruling would clear the way for more effective evaluations that will help students and struggling staff. “It’s more likely we’ll be able to identify struggling staff members and give them the help they need to improve,” he said. “This will be better for kids.”
Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, expressed the union’s opposition to using test scores in performance reviews and said any changes in the evaluation system needed to be negotiated. “UTLA will not negotiate an evaluation system that creates an incentive to degrade instruction or narrow the curriculum,” he said. “As always, UTLA will obey the law. But it is our job, the district and union together, to negotiate and devise an evaluation system that supports instruction.”
Under LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, about 700 teachers and principals at about 100 schools are participating in a voluntary evaluation program measured based on student test scores known as Academic Growth over Time. The union has opposed the voluntary program, contending that test scores are too unreliable for use in such high-stakes decisions as firing, tenure, or merit pay. UTLA proposed its own evaluation system earlier this year that uses data to identify areas of student need, but not to judge individual teacher performance.
Source: The Los Angeles Times, 6/12/12, By Teresa Watanabe; Howard Blume contributor
[Editor's Note: Earlier in June 2012, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Los Angeles Times, which reported on an Education Week article about three lawsuits in California filed to eliminate or reform teacher job protections, such as tenure, seniority, and due process.
Additionally, in May 2012, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Los Angeles Times, which reported on the Students Matter suit, filed on behalf of eight students, which also takes aim at California laws governing teacher tenure rules, seniority protections, and the teacher dismissal process.]