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Assembly Bill 5, which will revamp how teacher evaluations are done in California, has been revived thanks to recent support by the California Teachers Association, according to John Fensterwald, writing for Ed Source. CTA lobbyist Patricia Rucker said that it “is a clear and good policy document” now that some of CTA’s preferences have been incorporated into the revised bill.
So what does the bill do to evaluations and how has it been amended to appease CTA?
Mostly it codifies the existing standards for the teaching profession and mandates that all districts use them when evaluating their teachers. These are very reasonable and appropriate expectations for teachers such as engaging and supporting all pupils in learning, setting high expectations, creating and maintaining effective learning environments, and knowledge of content standards.
However, the bill adds a new and potentially dangerous standard: “Contributing to pupil academic growth based upon multiple measures, which may include, but are not limited to, classroom work, local and state academic assessments, and pupil grades, classroom participation, presentations and performances, and projects and portfolios.”
The danger here is that these measures assess where students are, not how they got there. Thus, they do not actually measure teacher skill. Since students’ performance and growth in these assessments is significantly influenced by their socioeconomic backgrounds, English language proficiency and special education status, many teachers will be evaluated poorly due to their students’ backgrounds rather than their own teaching ability.
Furthermore, Value Added Measures (VAM) that rate teachers based on student progress on standardized exams, are notoriously unreliable. Studies show that even when used correctly they are only accurate for the very worst and the very best teachers, not for the vast majority of teachers who lie somewhere in the middle.
So why would the state’s largest teachers’ union concede so much?
Fensterwald argues that they might be responding to a recent court ruling. In June, Superior Court Judge James Chalfant’s ruled that Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) was violating the Stull Act, which requires school districts to use student scores on state standardized tests when evaluating teacher effectiveness. Since AB 5 permits (but does not require) districts to use state test scores in teacher evaluations, CTA may believe that the law preempts the judge’s ruling and will buy them some breathing space.
This is a risky and stupid game for the union. Once student test scores become permissible as evidence of teacher quality, districts will try to impose it locally, while politicians and Ed Deformers will push to make it mandatory for all teachers under state law.
CTA ‘s Patricia Rucker has called the issue overblown, since the existing tests are slated to be replaced by new ones aligned to the Common Core Standards (CCS) and it remains to be seen whether those new tests will be “suitable for teacher evaluations.” However, her perspective shows an incredible naïveté. Considering who is profiting from the CCS and the new exams, it is incredibly unlikely that these tests will provide data that is any more reliable or meaningful than the current state tests. Furthermore, all student tests measure students’ performance, not teachers’. And since they are all influenced by students’ socioeconomic backgrounds, a good teacher can still end up with low student test scores.
Even with CTA’s support, AB 5 still faces an uphill battle. Those on the right are criticizing the revised bill because it does not require test scores be used in teacher evaluations. Still, if the bill passes, it could be years before it would be implemented (if ever). Because the Stull Act requires that the state reimburse local governments for mandated programs, AB 5 would cost the state millions that it currently does not have. Furthermore, the bill would be delayed by a minimum of seven years, until after the state has repaid school districts money it owes them due to budget cuts, a sum currently valued at more than $10 billion.
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