A resolution to counter the Los Angeles Unified School District’s current policy on how the quality of a teacher is measured was postponed at the Sept. 11 school board meeting.
Advocates on both sides of the resolution will now be forced to wait to weigh in on the resolution by LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer, whose original motion was slated to be heard June 12.
That motion, entitled “Commitment to Honor Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century,” asked the board to recognize the importance of peer assistance and review for assisting and intervening when teachers struggle or need additional resources.
The new motion asks the board to urge to LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy to use “a robust and diverse set of student learning instruments, including both state administered exams and authentic teacher developed assessments, that will allow for more complete and reliable student growth indicators to be a part of teacher’s professional growth and evaluation.
“This detailed information about student academic growth should be used instead of Academic Growth Over Time scores or any other measurements based on a single test, as teachers and administrators seek to use data to inform best practices that will improve student achievement,” the resolution states.
Academic Growth Over Time is a method of examining the impact of schools and educators on student learning outcomes and uses a value-added method that “controls external factors which often influence student test results” that is currently used by LAUSD.
Zimmer, who represents schools in Westchester, Del Rey and Venice, also asks in his new motion for the consideration of new data culled from the state’s first Task Force on Educator Excellence created by the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, the main reason for postponing the vote on the resolution.
The task force’s findings differ from the methodology that LAUSD is using to grade teachers, which is based on student standardized test scores.
The task force, which includes state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, was charged with researching a number of tasks, including offering observations on how the quality of K-12 educators should be gauged.
“The goal of teaching is learning, so there can be no honest assessment of a teacher’s performance without considering what students have learned,” Torkalson wrote. “Teachers want honest feedback to understand their strengths and focus attention on the areas they need to improve.
“But just as no attorney would be fairly judged on the outcome of a single case and no doctor’s skills would be properly assessed by the results of a single patient, no teacher’s work should be gauged by how students perform on a single test taken on a single day,” the school superintendent continued.
“Teachers are expected to work hard every day to help students learn many more things than are evaluated on one test. Fairness demands they be evaluated based on the sum of their efforts.”
Teacher accountability has become a lightening rod of controversy among teacher unions, educators and administrators. Those in favor of value-added assessments, which measures an educator’s contribution in a given year by comparing current test scores of their students to the scores of the same students in the previous school year, support the district’s position.
Keith Silva, a former chemistry teacher at Venice High School, supports LAUSD’s method of teacher evaluation.
“If (LAUSD) had this when I was teaching I would have been ecstatic,” Silva told The Argonaut prior to the board meeting. “It’s a great way to get feedback on how you’re teaching.”
A parent-teacher group formed over the summer called “Our Schools, Our Voice” has proposed an alternate plan for teacher evaluations that calls for student data, or the results of standardized tests, to be one quarter of a teacher’s performance reviews.
Jeneen Robinson is a member of that group. She feels that Zimmer’s motion does not take into account student achievement without a critical analysis of a teacher’s performance.
“There has to be an objective measure of teachers,” said Robinson, the parent of a fourth grader at Playa Vista Elementary School. “An assessment test as 30-50 percent of an evaluation is a modest assessment.”
In an exclusive interview prior to the June 12 board meeting, Zimmer, who is seeking reelection in 2013, spelled out the reasons for presenting his ideas on teacher evaluation.
“I think that we’ve gone too long without having an authentic teacher evaluation system that people buy into and it has not helped teachers move forward in their professional growth,” said Zimmer.
“If you’re a fourth grade teacher under the competitive approach and you’re being evaluated against your partner fourth grade teacher, why are the two going to work together?” the school board member asked. “What’s the incentive?
“And believe me, if adults feel that way, the students feel that way to,” Zimmer added.
Sue Kaplan, who volunteers at Westminster Avenue Elementary School in Venice, thinks test scores should be part of the equation but questions how LAUSD’s methodology judges teacher performance.
“Evaluations are good. They can identify the weaker or troublesome teachers and it can identify areas for improvement, etc.,” she acknowledged. “But the method of testing and the uses of the tests do not seem to do that. Another method should be found.”
Avila said teacher evaluations through test scores allows the district to get a sense of not only how students are performing but also how an educator has progressed or regressed after a period of time.
“When I was a department chair, I had to make decisions on whom to hire. Doesn’t a school know a lot more about a teacher after five years than at the beginning when they’re hired?” he asked. “Shouldn’t we at least make a point to evaluate how they are impacting kids?”
Avila referenced the similarities between Zimmer’s resolution and a Chicago teachers strike, where some of the main sticking points in the negotiations with the union and the Chicago Board of Education involve evaluations of educators.
Karen Wolfe, whose children attend Marina Del Rey Middle School in Del Rey, disagrees with the concept of using standardized testing as the sole criteria or making it a large percentage of a teacher’s review.
“I don’t think test scores are a particularly strong indicator of what students have learned,” she said. “Evaluating a teacher cannot be accurately evaluated by filling in bubbles in a test.”
Kaplan sees how teachers work to inspire their students at Westminster outside of simply “teaching to the test.”
“There are so many factors that a student brings to the schoolroom and to these tests. So many are at a disadvantage,” she said “There should be a qualitative evaluation along with the quantifiable so that teachers who are really doing a good job and improving students’ learning are recognized beyond the test score.”
Robinson likened teacher performance to how other sectors in public life are gauged. “No great institution became greater without surveying its customers and asking ‘how are we doing?”’ she said. “In this case, parents and students are the customers.”
The task force also mentions how student performance is often predicated on other factors besides teachers.
“Just as there’s no substitute for outstanding educators, there’s no substitute for involved parents, effective administrators and school employees, along with adequate resources for children – inside and outside the classroom,” Torlakson wrote.
Wolfe said Zimmer’s resolution comes at the right time, during a heated national debate on how to judge the quality of a teacher’s instruction and student achievement.
“I’m grateful that Zimmer raised this issue before it’s too late,” she said. ¤