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Teacher Evaluations Still to Be Negotiated

October 4, 2010

The publication of a series of articles on teacher evaluations in the Los Angeles Times has generated a huge firestorm of controversy.  On the one hand are the “reformers” who believe the time is past due for a complete revamp of teacher evaluations, and on the other are academics who express serious concerns about using test scores to measure something for which they were not designed.

But what many forget is that teacher evaluation methods in California must be negotiated between teachers and management.

In fact, all contracts and their provisions, are negotiated by these groups.  Today’s latest fad is the Value Added Measure (VAM), and as of today, in spite of the publication of a teacher database online, it is still not a part of the teachers’ contract in Los Angeles.

The teacher database was created by a contracted researcher from RAND Corp. who used a formula from raw student scores to create effectiveness labels for teachers.  Thus, some were labeled as highly effective, effective, less effective, and least effective.  No Principal, administrator, or Superintendent was involved in creating this database.  No parent surveys of teachers were used to calculate these ratings.  This evaluation was the 100% brainchild of the Los Angeles Times.

Many groups applauded the move.  The justification cited by the Los Angeles Times was that parents “have the right to judge the data for themselves.” Sadly, this was not the case.  Parents never had access to the raw data.  All they were able to view were the results of a complicated formula based on the raw data, so at most, parents were only able to judge the judgment made by the Times reporters, Jason Song and Jason Felch.

Parents still do not know, per this system, how teachers came to be rated the way they were.  They cannot tell if teachers taught to the test, eliminated non-tested subjects, or were brilliant masters of their craft.  The methodology of VAM just does not tell us this.

Doesn’t it make sense that if the teacher evaluation system is to be revamped, it should be done in a way that will increase the likelihood that excellent instruction is taking place? Because, let’s face it; VAM will not weed out the poorest teachers.  It may catch the egregiously indolent ones, but life for the ones who may not have the students’ best interest in mind might just get easier under a VAM-based evaluation.

So for now, Los Angeles teachers must soon decide if we will accept a change to the manner in which we are currently evaluated.  The change would be to calculate our evaluations, or a percentage thereof, using VAM.  With an error rate as high as 30%, with the implications it will have on classroom instruction (deepening the narrowing of the curriculum and increasing the amount of high-stakes testing), and with the reality that this strategy is being used to break our union, I foresee a no vote by L.A. teachers on this proposal.  A better method can be found here.

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