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California Districts Ignoring Teacher-Evaluation Law, Report Claims

Guest post by Ross Brenneman

Four years after a major lawsuit in California brought attention to districts ignoring a teacher-evaluation statute, many districts continue not to include student achievement as a measure of teacher quality, a new report alleges.

The findings come from EdVoice, an advocacy group that funded—and ultimately won—a lawsuit against Los Angeles Unified School District in 2011, alleging that the nation's second-largest school district was ignoring student achievement, in violation of state law.

Following that suit, EdVoice began investigating other districts' policies, resulting in the report released today, "Student Progress Ignored," saying that student achievement continues to be ignored by districts in spite of legal obligations.

"Evidence from many large districts suggests little movement from their elected leaders, senior management, or staff unit representatives to change non-compliant district practice and culture, except when legal violations are brought directly to their attention," the report concludes.

Specifically, the EdVoice report looks at district compliance with the Stull Act, which outlines teacher-evaluation standards for the state. The report dissects both formal evaluation forms and collective bargaining agreements to see whether student achievement is included.

Of the 26 districts investigated, only two, the Clovis Unified and Sweetwater Union High School districts, were found to comply fully on official evaluation forms, if not in the collective-bargaining agreements for those districts. The report's author, Alejandro Sandoval, said via email that the forms themselves are better indicators of compliance with the Stull Act than CBAs are, but EdVoice also had hoped to see alignment between districts and unions.

(EdVoice would not give a list of its funders to Education Week, although its funding has generally been tied to patrons such as Reed Hastings and Eli Broad.)

California has 1,028 school districts, but EdVoice used 26 of the largest districts in its study. The San Ramon Valley and Upland districts were found to be "explicitly in violation" of the Stull Act, due to CBAs that purportedly ban consideration of test scores in teacher evaluations. Representatives of both districts told the Los Angeles Times that they disagree with the report's findings and are in compliance with state law, though San Ramon plans to unveil a pilot program of a new evaluation system next year.

The report acknowledges that the forms studied generally have comment sections where evaluators could add in details on student growth, but further analysis of completed teacher evaluation forms (with names redacted) showed that no district used the comments to address student achievement in a consistent manner.

Some of the forms are more obvious in addressing student achievement. San Diego, for instance—which EdVoice found at least partially compliant—has a line for "Progress of students toward established standards," and a choice of three boxes for how a teacher is doing. The form is one page.

Mt. Diablo, which EdVoice says failed to meet compliance standards, has a nevertheless complex evaluation form, which asks whether the educator in question "uses instructional time to optimize learning," or "monitors student learning and adjusts instruction while teaching," or "organizes curriculum to facilitate student understanding of subject matter," among 35 other items. That form is seven pages.

"Without being able to identify educators whose efforts are not adequately contributing to student progress, the state and districts cannot identify or efficiently provide the mandated, extra supports necessary to help struggling staff improve," the report says.

Yet, the latter form includes items that on their face would seem more helpful to the teachers themselves in understanding what and how to improve. Perhaps a more-explicit inclusion of student achievement gains could be a prompt for extra scrutiny, but having a number is different from having an explanation.


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