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Group Behind Vergara Handed Another Setback in Teacher-Evaluations Case

California courts have handed Students Matter, the group behind the landmark Vergara v. California case, yet another defeat in their quest to use the judiciary to upend laws that they say keep bad teachers in the classroom. Yesterday, Contra County Superior Court Judge Barry P. Goode ruled that a group of California school districts that aren't using student test scores for evaluating teachers are in compliance with state law.

In this case, Doe v. Antioch, the plaintiffs claimed that collective bargaining agreements covering 13 California districts were patently violating state law by barring the use of student test scores in teacher-evaluation systems. With echoes of the Vergara case, the plaintiffs' lawyers blasted a state evaluation framework in which 98 percent of teachers are given satisfactory ratings, while only 44 percent of students pass state reading tests and just 33 percent are proficient in math.

The districts' lawyers contended that the agreements don't run afoul of the state law in question—the 1999 Stull Act—because that legislation doesn't explicitly mandate that tests scores be used to evaluate teachers.

That law commands school districts to evaluate employee's performance "as it reasonably relates to the progress of pupils toward the standards... and, if applicable, the state adopted academic content standards as measured by state adopted criterion referenced assessments." 

The judge's ruling boiled down to one phrase in the Stull Act. 

"The phrase 'reasonably relates' gives the school districts discretion to determine what is reasonable in this complex situation," the judge ruled.

In a statement released after the ruling, Students Matter founder Dave Welsh said that this decision underscores the need for Governor Jerry Brown to sign a bill that encourages districts to use a variety of measures for evaluating teachers, including test scores, classroom observations and student and parent surveys.

"If the court will not enforce the Legislature's clear and unambiguous intent in the Stull Act, then their refusal underscores the need for Governor Brown to sign AB 2826, clarifying the measures of student progress that must be used in the evaluation of educators," Welch said.

According to the National Council pm Teacher Quality, California is one of only 10 states that does not require districts to use student test scores as part of teacher evaluations.

This decision comes just weeks after the California Supreme Court refused to consider the Vergara case, letting stand an appeals court decision finding that the state's teacher job-protection job protections did not in themselves violate the students' equal-protection rights. 

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