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LA Times backs California's NCLB Defiance

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Today the Los Angeles Times, the largest circulation newspaper in the largest metropolis in the most populous state in the nation, came out in support of the decision by Governor Jerry Brown and Superintendent Tom Torlakson to ignore the Department of Education's invitation to file for a waiver of No Child Left Behind.

The newspaper's editorial board wrote:

The U.S. Department of Education is wrongly attempting to impose its view of how states should improve education instead of just requiring them to show evidence of higher achievement. Test scores probably have some value in the rating of teachers, but that has yet to be proved. It's important for schools to do this thoughtfully -- in ways that are valid, backed by research and that work for individual districts -- rather than through rushed nationwide mandates.

This is a prudent stance, and it is greatly appreciated. I wrote a few weeks ago about the conditions Secretary Duncan is setting as prerequisites for a waiver. States must put in place teacher and principal evaluation systems that include student test scores. They also must create new standards for college and career readiness, and embrace the new national Common Core Standards. The state of California has estimated that fulfilling these requirements would cost more than $3 billion.

It is of special note that this viewpoint is coming from a newspaper that has seen fit to entrust the reputations of 11,500 teachers to a couple of reporters and economists, who came up with "value-added" scores for them, based on standardized test scores alone. The newspaper published the names and "effectiveness" ratings of all these teachers, including one by the name of Rigoberto Ruelas, who committed suicide last fall. His family said he was thrown into depression as a result of his "less effective" rating.

I appeared on a panel with one of the reporters responsible for this project, Jason Felch, and shared the experience here.

I am happy the Los Angeles Times has taken this stance.
I hope that this, and the recent article they carried on the negative effects of the high pressure being placed on standardized test scores, cause them to take stock of their own role in this situation. If their own editorial board states "Test scores probably have some value in the rating of teachers, but that has yet to be proved," does not this call into question their own value-added system, by which teachers are publicly labeled more or less effective based solely on test scores?

What do you think? Is the state of California on the right track in rejecting NCLB waivers? Can the Los Angeles Times be a legitimate critic of evaluations based on test scores while it publishes its own set of test-based teacher ratings?

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