Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Time’s coverage of news of its own making continues: LAUSD BOARD MAKES FIRST STATEMENTS ABOUT TEST SCORE ANALYSIS OF TEACHERS

By Jason Song, Los Angeles Times – one of  the reporters who made the news

Most say the current way of evaluating teachers needs to be reworked; some add parents deserve more information about their children's teachers. Some criticize Times' publication of database.

September 1, 2010 | Los Angeles school board members made their first public statements Tuesday about evaluating teachers partially by analyzing student test scores, with most saying that the current system needs to be reworked and some adding that parents deserve more information about their children's teachers.

"As a parent, I think I have a right to know," said board member Nury Martinez, who added that she did not believe that the general public should be able to see a teacher's entire review.

Martinez also acknowledged that the district has lagged in updating its evaluations.

"I also believe this conversation has taken way too long. I think we're talking years and years and years," she said. "We need to get the ball moving here."

During a presentation to the board, recently appointed Deputy Supt. John Deasy said the district would move quickly and planned by October to begin issuing confidential scores to employees that would be based on a "value-added" analysis of student scores on standardized tests. He also said the district would include value-added scores for schools on campus report cards that are issued to the public.

Deasy said he believes that value-added should be one measure in teacher evaluations. He has said in the past that he believes that it should comprise at least 30% of an instructor's review but that the majority of the evaluation should come from classroom observation.

"You wouldn't not use student achievement over time," Deasy said. "You can't ignore it."

Value-added analysis uses the change from year to year in a student's performance on standardized test scores to estimate a teacher's effectiveness. The method is controversial, particularly with teacher unions, but has been embraced by a growing number of school districts nationwide and the Obama administration as a way to bring an objective measure to teacher evaluations.

The board as a whole has remained silent since The Times, three weeks ago, began publishing a series of stories based on a value-added analysis. The newspaper conducted the analysis using seven years of standardized test scores obtained from L.A. Unified under the California Public Records Act. The paper earlier this week also published a database that ranked about 6,000 third- through fifth-grade teachers based on their value-added scores.

Some board members have been anxious to start shaping a new evaluation system that would use value-added scores as one of several measures of a teacher's effectiveness.

Los Angeles teacher union officials have been highly critical of value-added analysis and of The Times database, saying they believe that the method is based on flawed standardized test scores. But they also have said that they are ready to begin negotiations with the district over the issue.

District officials and union leadership have had informal discussions about teacher evaluations. But the school board has not yet voted to authorize formal talks.

Board members deferred until at least Thursday any formal vote on that question.

Some board members wanted an emergency meeting on the issue last week. At Tuesday's session, board member Yolie Flores attempted to have a vote on a motion that would have instructed the superintendent to begin negotiations immediately and clarified the board's stance on value-added.

"I'm always frustrated at the pace of things," Flores said. "I also have a sense of the public waiting to hear from the board. We … have not spoken of the events of the last two, three weeks."

Flores' motion also echoed the recommendations made by a board-appointed task force during the spring, which recommended using multiple measures, including student test scores, to evaluate teachers and giving instructors more feedback.

Several board members expressed surprise at Flores' move. "This was an innovative way … to bring an item forward," board President Monica Garcia said.

After a flurry of quick meetings with a district lawyer, the board decided to delay a vote until Thursday because Flores' motion had not been included on Tuesday's agenda.

Some board members also criticized The Times' decision to publish the database, which ranked the teachers on a scale from "least effective" to "most effective."

"There is a recklessness to putting out a database that is incomplete even by your own standards," Steve Zimmer said. "I'm outraged, I'm appalled, I'm revolted."

And Richard Vladovic said he recently spoke to some teachers who told him that they felt like they had a "scarlet letter" on their foreheads.

The Times has said in its stories and in the database that value-added scores reflect only a teacher's performance at raising, or lowering, student scores on standardized tests of math and English and as such captures only one aspect of a teacher's work.

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