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LAUSD Ruling Clear on the Law, Won’t Shake Up the State

June 18, 2012

One week ago, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James Chalfant issued a ruling on the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations.  Reformers are crowing, unions are complaining, and most of the state’s teachers and students, heading off to summer break, are not yet aware of the ruling and the changes it might bring. For a good overview of the case and the ruling, and some interesting exchanges of comments on the ruling, see John Fensterwarld’s post in Thoughts on Public Education.

What does the judge’s ruling mean for the future of teacher evaluation?  It appears to me to a rather narrow but clear ruling that will compel districts and unions to comply with California’s teacher evaluation law, widely known as the Stull Act, and in reading the judge’s summary and analysis, it’s hard for me to see any other logical outcome to this case.  Districts and unions simply have not been complying with state Education Code Section 44662:

(a) The governing board of each school district shall establish standards of expected pupil achievement at each grade level in each area of study.

(b) The governing board of each school district shall evaluate and assess certificated employee performance as it reasonably relates to:

(1) The progress of pupils toward the standards established pursuant to subdivision (a) and, if applicable, the state adopted academic content standards as measured by state adopted criterion referenced assessments.

On the question of whether or not the law undercuts collective bargaining, the judge writes that such an argument confuses the question of whether the district must follow the law with the question of how the district follows the law (page 14 of the ruling).  In the aftermath of the ruling, the issue now becomes how districts, starting with LAUSD, will comply with the law when pressed by court order, and in that matter, the teachers and unions should still have some say.  As the judge notes,

The specific means by which LAUSD complies may well be a matter subject to collective bargaining. Thus, some or all of the following may be subjects for which the District must collectively bargain: (1) whether the District adopts the AGT [Academic Growth over Time] System, uses student grades or pass/fail rates, or uses some other means of measuring student performance; (2) how student performance criteria are incorporated into teacher and administrator evaluations – e.g., as an express provision on a Stull final evaluation form or some other manner; (3) the importance of student progress in relation to the other factors for teachers and administrators are evaluated; and (4) the training requirements for principals and assistant principals in how to use student progress in teacher evaluations. (page 14)

Judge Chalfant adds in a footnote, “The court offers no opinion on which issues must be collectively bargained.”   So while certain education reformers who supported the suit are sounding confident that they will get what they want out of this ruling, there is actually still much to discuss about implementation, not only in LAUSD, but any other district that sees this ruling as an impetus towards change.  In fact, regarding just how much “relief” his mandate offers, the judge notes that

Petitioners may be overreaching for some of the relief they are requesting, but this does not mean they are not entitled to any relief at all. The court cannot tell the District how to implement changes to its evaluation process, but this would be true even if the unions had no labor interest in, and [the Public Employment Relations Board] had no jurisdiction over, collective bargaining issues. Mandamus [a court order] will not lie to force a public entity or official to exercise its discretionary powers in any particular manner, only to compel the agency to act in some manner.

ACT members Tammie Adams and Anthony Cody considering teacher evaluation reforms.

The judge also noted, and I agree, that student learning is the goal of teaching, and therefore evidence of student learning ought to be part of a teacher evaluation.  Accomplished California Teachers (ACT) included evidence of student learning as one of the core principles in our report on teacher evaluation reforms.  (So, please, spare me your “defender of the status quo” retorts).  However, standardized test scores are the weakest evidence of student learning, and even for some of us in tested subjects, they are poorly correlated with the standards we use in our teaching.

Now, looking ahead, are California school districts all going to fall in line and adopt something like the AGT model or other methods for using student test scores as a significant part of teacher evaluations?

I wouldn’t hold my breath.  And here’s why.  Despite the enthusiasm of some reformers and administrators for value-added measures in evaluations, the resistance is not going away, nor should it.  Ask yourself, if the law is so clear, why have so many districts avoided real compliance with that law?  Surely, if student test scores had real value in teacher evaluation, more superintendents and school boards would have used the law to force the issue earlier.  This particular suit came thirteen years after the passage of the relevant provision in the Stull Act.

But use of test scores and value-added measures will actually fail to improve teacher evaluations, and many educators and educational leaders already know this.  If we look to international comparisons, none of the leading nations has adopted this approach to improving education.  Private schools, unencumbered by unions and educational codes, have still eschewed such measures of teaching quality.

One of our state’s most lauded superintendents is Chris Steinhauser of Long Beach Unified School District.  He has been in his position for a decade (almost forever, in superintendencies) and in that time he and the district have been recognized for outstanding work and “sustained and significant improvement” by state and national leaders in education.  They even took the Broad Prize for Urban Education in 2003 (and were finalists several other years).  Steinhauser is now the Co-Chair of California’s Educator Excellence Task Force.  What does he say about using test scores for teacher evaluation?  Look at this EdWeek Commentary by Linda Darling-Hammond:

Chris Steinhauser, the superintendent in award-winning Long Beach, Calif., where schools have been nationally recognized for progress in closing the achievement gap, refuses to include state test scores in teacher evaluations. He points to one of the district’s expert veteran teachers, who routinely takes the highest-need 4th graders. Because she can move such students forward where others often cannot, they gain much more than they otherwise would. Meanwhile, other teachers who have easier classes can experience greater success, and everyone wins.

Penalizing such a teacher for taking on the toughest assignment does not make sense. Rather, Steinhauser has spread this model to other schools, allocating the best talent to the neediest students and supporting teacher collaboration.

So, I don’t imagine that this court order in Los Angeles will transform evaluations around the state.  It may force some  shift in focus towards an area of policy where districts and unions have seemingly agreed not to comply with a state law.  If intelligent analysis, solid research, and practitioner wisdom prevail, some new contracts may emerge that meet the minimum requirements for compliance with the Stull Act, without placing undue emphasis or value on state test results.  Some other contracts will undoubtedly move too far in the wrong direction.  There’s still plenty of variability in local districts and collective bargaining.

Coming on Wednesday – more thoughts and reflections on this topic in light of the LAUSD ruling.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Lynne Formigli permalink
    June 19, 2012 4:04 pm

    I wasn’t in the courtroom, and didn’t get to hear the arguments, but it seems somewhat silly to me. How do non-classroom teachers and those whose subjects are not tested get evaluated? If I teach art, is my evaluation based on how my students do on standardized tests in math and language arts? Yes, I know, not many art and music teachers left, but there are still some. Those of us whose subjects are tested get to deal with having our evaluations based on factors outside our control. It’s a recipe for extreme frustration to be measured on indicators which do not correlate with your actual job performance.

    I think the greatest tragedy is teachers aren’t getting useful feedback on their teaching from their evaluations. California Teachers Association, CTA, had a survey on teacher evaluations, and I got to see the results. Overwhelmingly teachers are frustrated by the lack of meaningful feedback to their teaching practice. They are just as upset over a “great job” as they are by unfair criticism when both result from drive-by evaluations. Teachers are not afraid of fair evaluations which provide helpful feedback to improve their teaching, it’s what we want.

    • David B. Cohen permalink*
      June 19, 2012 4:24 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Lynne. I think some of your objections are the type that remain the subjects of collective bargaining, but where there are CST tests available, the law pretty clearly requires their use in evaluation. That particular provision into the Stull Act went into ed code when I lived in Illinois, and I take it as a sign that the law is rarely followed that I hadn’t realized it was the law, despite paying close attention to these issues for the past 4-5 years. There’s also the apparently contradictory law that said state data in the now defunded CalPADS system would NOT be used for teacher evaluation. I guess this portion of ed code was able to stand because a district could use its own data and not draw from a (now non-existent) state database. And yes, I agree that the most significant problem here is that most districts need to make significant progress on meaningful evaluations for all teachers.

  2. Lisa Alva Wood permalink
    June 19, 2012 8:56 pm

    This is painful. According to Achieve3000.com, a CAHSEE-prep “linked learning” software program, ALL students in my 8th period are predicted to earn a score of Far Below Basic on their next CST. This means that no matter what I do to move them from 3rd to 6th grade reading level, they will show no gain on the CST and therefore, on my AGT or VAM.
    Regardless of what tests and statistics say about how my kids score, it doesn’t mean they can’t think. And it doesn’t mean I can’t or don’t TEACH.

  3. June 19, 2012 11:57 pm

    I am not sure I share your confidence about LAUSD doing the right thing in face of the resistance. This is a stubbornly ignorant organization who will stick to its guns just because it decided it was buying a certain program, move on a certain initiative.

    10 years ago LAUSD went reform-crazy and mandated every single school implement a comprehensive school reform. Our school chose America’s Choice School Design. We must have spent at least $100,000 training coaches (I was one of them) and staff and purchasing materials. A scant 4 years into the reform a new superintendent came in and scrapped all reforms. Our school was reprimanded, the Principal criticized, for implementing a reform mandated by the district.

    I cannot tell you how many hundreds of millions of dollars were spent buying a new payroll system that overpaid me by thousands of dollars and didn’t pay some employees at all. Or the hundreds of millions spent building a high school on contaminated soil. But they went forward, no matter what.

    LAUSD is married to Academic Growth Over Time, also known as value added measurement. Only in the bizarro world of school reform does a Superintendent get sued and is happy about it. The court ruling will give John Deasy the ammunition he needs to mandate it against the voices of the informed. The only hope lies in the mandate by the judge that the evaluation be negotiated. But as we have seen nationwide, unions seem to be all too happy to appease as they have been caught in the blitzkrieg of negative portrayal by the education reformers.

    So to conclude, after 20 years of working in this district I am not expecting the right thing to be done. I’m waiting to see how someone is going to calculate my AGT score since my social studies students are only tested in 5th, 8th and 10th grades. Knowing LAUSD, it will be complicated and expensive.

    • June 27, 2012 9:22 am

      The only way to eliminate the VAM/AGT pseudosciences—which have all the validity of a nine credit hour Doctoral Degree—from our district is to elect board members connected to the communities and having a background in social justice. This Superintendent needs his own personal pink slip so he can go back to one of the plutocratic foundations he came from. The same goes for all the other Broadytes in LAUSD like Matt Hill and Maria Casillas.

      Los Angeles students deserve better than to be subjected to racial and culturally biased standardized tests and corporate core curriculum. It’s time for an entirely different vision in LAUSD, and that’s going to take struggle to overcome the real status quo that’s comprised of privatization, profiteering, and paternalism.

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  1. Playing in the Sandbox of Evaluation Reform: Teacher as Observer « InterACT

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