Monday, October 22, 2012

LAUSD Lays Down Hammer on Evaluations

Image from Flickr by r8r

Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has filed a declaration of impasse, according to the Daily News, after failed negotiations with United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) over a new teacher evaluation system based on student test scores. LAUSD is under court order to revise its evaluation system by December 4. However, Superior Court Judge James Chalfant has mandated that the district negotiate with the union over the new system.

UTLA President Warren Fletcher said last week that his 40,000-member union was engaged in "good-faith bargaining with LAUSD officials over developing a fair and effective teacher evaluation system.” This, of course, is typical union mumbo jumbo meant to convince the public that the union was playing by the rules and trying to do right by the students and that any blame for the stalemate lies squarely on the shoulders of LAUSD.

While Fletcher’s quote may sound good to the press, it is patently untrue. If UTLA was really interested in creating a fair and effective teacher evaluation system they would refuse to accept any use of student test data in their evaluations, as such data is unreliable, inconsistent and leads to many false positives and negatives (see here, here and here). This is obviously bad for teachers who could receive bad evaluations despite being good teachers simply because they work in a low income school with the perennially low test scores that are common in lower income schools. However, it is also bad for children in several ways. They could end up losing excellent teachers because of the inaccuracies inherent in this evaluation system. Conversely, bad teachers could easily slip through the cracks and remain in the classroom because they happen to work in higher income schools, which tend to have higher test scores and larger gains on their scores.

If UTLA and LAUSD were truly interested in a fair and effective evaluation plan they would demand that well-trained outside evaluators be brought in to evaluate teachers blindly, using a combination of classroom observations and portfolios. This would eliminate the bias inherent in being evaluated by the boss (i.e., site administrators), who may ding a teacher for not embracing and carrying out his pet projects and reforms with sufficient vigor or for speaking out on children’s or teachers’ behalf at faculty or board meetings. It also would eliminate the problem of site administrators being poorly trained and lacking the time to make sufficient and competent observations and evaluations. And it would eliminate the bias and problems inherent in the use of student test data.

That LAUSD is declaring impasse suggests that they are fed up with UTLA’s position on the matter. Yet UTLA, despite Mr. Fletcher’s criticisms, has embraced student test data to evaluate its teachers. The big stumbling block, at this point, is that LAUSD wants the data to be based on individual classrooms, which can be directly linked to individual teachers, whereas UTLA wants it aggregated school-wide.

The union is also saying that it wants evaluations that provide useful feedback for teachers so they can improve their practice. Yet regardless of how student test data is acquired or aggregated, it fails to provide such data. This is because the test scores are a measure of student test taking ability. They tell us nothing about how students learned the content or developed their test taking skills and their scores are influenced far more by their socioeconomic status than by their schools and teachers.

UTLA, having already accepted the use of student test data, is unlikely to strike over the matter, especially when the district is under court mandate to include student test data in its new evaluation system. Unions have become overwhelmingly averse to challenging court orders and injunctions (e.g., the Chicago Teachers Union, which supposedly struck over student test data being used to evaluate teachers was, in reality, only fighting over the extent to which it would be used, having already  accepted that it was required by Illinois state law). Thus, the question is not whether, but how, student test data will be abused to evaluate teachers.

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