By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Daily News
08/25/2010 09:08:58 PM PDT -- An emotional Ramon Cortines delivered his last "back to school" address as head of Los Angeles Unified on Wednesday, urging principals, parents and district officials to embrace reforms as the district faces increasing outside pressure to improve schools.
In a 30-minute speech at Hollywood High School, Cortines celebrated gains made by local students in the last few years and outlined programs he plans to launch in his final months at LAUSD, including the use of student test data in teacher evaluations.
Cortines plans to step down in the spring. Deputy Superintendent John Deasy is expected to replace him.
Cortines spoke hours before U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan chided LAUSD for failing to give teachers and parents more data on student achievement exam scores.
However, Cortines stressed his need to support employees as district officials work to negotiate controversial changes to labor contracts with union leaders.
"This is a time of transition ... but we all have much to be proud of and we must continue working together to continue improvements on behalf of our children," Cortines said.
"Thank you for the opportunity to work for you ... and with you," a teary Cortines added.
Cortines said he plans to include the controversial value-added analysis of exam scores, but only as one of several elements in district teacher evaluations.
Value-added, which compares a student's test score with his or her
performance on previous tests, has received increased attention this month in the wake of stories published by the Los Angeles Times, which used the method of analyzing test scores to rate the effectiveness of some 6,000 elementary teachers.
A database of the teachers and a ranking of their effectiveness using the value-added method is expected to be released later this month by the newspaper.
Cortines said the district is developing a plan to use these scores as one of several pieces of a re-vamped teacher evaluation system. Parents can also expect "value-added" scores for all LAUSD schools in the next few months, including charter schools.
On Wednesday, though, Duncan criticized LAUSD for taking too long to release data and urged school officials across the country not to make the same mistakes.
"Los Angeles illustrates the problem. Like school systems throughout our nation, the L.A. Unified School District has years of data on its students, yet most administrators never shared that information with teachers in a useful way," Duncan said.
"Every state and district should be collecting and sharing information about teacher effectiveness with teachers and – in the context of other important measures – with parents."
Cortines and other LAUSD leaders have said that they believe teacher effectiveness information should remain, largely, a personnel issue that should not be public.
On Wednesday school board member Steve Zimmer said he thinks the data could be used in evaluations, but should not be public.
Board member Richard Vladovic, on the other hand, said "to deny accountability is to deny you make a difference."
Vladovic said while parents should have access to the information, reporters and other members of the public should not.
Board President Monica Garcia said she will push for the board to move quickly on the issue.
"I think we are all in agreement that we have an evaluation system that is flawed," Garcia said.
"But I am interested in being effective here."