LAUSD, Union Reach Agreement on Teacher Evaluations

The goal that John Deasy set for himself when he took over the reigns of the Los Angeles Unified School District two years ago is one step closer to becoming reality. The Los Angeles Times reports that after months of tense negotiations, Deasy and the union representing the LAUSD teachers are ready to announce a tentative agreement to use student test scores in assessing teacher quality.

The agreement means that Los Angeles will join a number of large urban districts, including Chicago, that use such objective data to determine the quality of instruction. The deal will have the district use a number of different benchmarks and will compare not only individual student achievement – as judged by the state-mandated exams and high school exit tests – but also how well the school as a whole is performing compared to the others around the district.

But the tentative agreement leaves unanswered the most controversial question: how much to count student test scores in measuring teacher effectiveness. The school district and the union agreed only that the test scores would not be "sole, primary or controlling factors" in a teacher's final evaluation.

Deasy couldn't hold back his smiles as he announced the news to the press. He called the occasion "historic" and said that using student achievement data to rate teachers will not only hold the district accountable for how well students are progressing, but will also provide information that could be used to improve the quality of instruction district-wide.

Before the deal can take effect it still needs to be ratified by members of United Teachers Los Angeles — and there is some concern that the vote will go against the agreement. According to the Times, sentiment against the use of student data is running strong among the rank and file, with many saying that this kind of data doesn't accurately reflect teacher quality.

Union leadership was much more measured in its announcement of the deal, calling it "preliminary" and pointing out that it was made mainly to comply with the deadline set by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant. The Judge ruled earlier this year that LAUSD's teacher evaluation system put it in violation of the Stull Act, which requires that some objective data be used to assess instructional quality. Chalfant gave the district and the union until December 4th to come up with a compliant system.

In a statement, the teachers union also emphasized that the agreement rejected the use of the district's method of measuring student academic progress for individual instructors. That measure, called Academic Growth Over Time, uses a mathematical formula to estimate how much a teacher helps students' performance, based on state test scores and controlling for such outside factors as income and race. Under the agreement, however, schoolwide scores using this method, also known as a value-added system, will be used.

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