Professional Educators

Evaluation: The Road Beyond Union Bashing in LA

By Steve Snider

Recent reporting in the Los Angeles Times linking standardized test scores to individual teachers and threatening to label thousands of teachers by name as “effective or “ineffective” based on the scores, has ignited debate far and wide. NEA President Dennis Van Roekel’s letter to the editor in Friday’s Times, called the paper’s plan “irresponsible” and “misleading.” A former high school math teacher, Van Roekel said the value-added approach to measuring effectiveness is “famously inconsistent. In one case, 30% of math teachers who ranked in the bottom quintile one year were above the median the following year.”

Cynthia McCabe’s excellent reporting on the controversy at NEAToday.org found a wide range of critics across the spectrum. A little closer to the ground in LA, the United Teachers Los Angeles held their Leadership Conference over the weekend. While presenting information about NEA’s Priority School Campaign, we had a chance to catch up with a UTLA member who provided real 101 on the controversy and the issue beyond.

Alex Caputo-Pearl is Lead Teacher at the Social Justice and the Law Academy at Crenshaw High School in West LA and here’s what he had to say about the LA Times, about measuring teacher effectiveness and more importantly, about using evaluations to make a real difference in students’ lives:

“In a nutshell, the Los Angeles Times is an institution in the city of Los Angeles that has typically and historically been anti union, using a tool, this value added measure, which uses standardized tests in a high-stakes way to say whether a teacher is quote, unquote effective or quote, unquote ineffective. The problem with it is that we know standardized tests are one important thing to look at in student development, in teacher formative assessment; they can’t be used in a high-stakes way with kids or teachers. Every study that’s been done on that says that you can’t just rely on that single measure because it’s not reliable and it’s not even made for that purpose.

“What we’re trying to do at UTLA – we have a teacher effectiveness group that’s been working since this spring. We are trying to come out with policy for the UTLA House of Representatives to adopt in the Fall and then move into a plan and political strategy. What we want to do is take a proactive approach to this issue and we take the best of what’s out there in terms of Linda Darling Hammond’s work up at Stanford, Diane Ravitch’s work, work that we have here in LA like the Institute for Standards, Curriculum and Assessments; take the best elements at work and propose a real plan for teacher support, development and evaluation. And we’ve got some real allies in that fight – we’ve got West Ed working with us. It’s not an issue of us not wanting to put something out there; it’s going to happen. It’s complicated to put that together; it’s a complicated issue.

“The way the Los Angeles Times spins it and the way that some of the most anti-union board members spin it is that this issue is only about teachers who need to be dismissed, the so-called ‘bad teachers.’ One of the things we have to do is reframe it and say that’s actually not true at all; this is an issue about the 10 percent 15 percent, 20 percent of teachers who are exemplary and how they can help others; the few on the bottom end who are right now ineffective but need support and then the huge number in the middle. The real question for teachers and for kids is ‘how do we move the mediocre teacher to a place where they’re good? How do we move the good teachers to a place where they’re very good?’ – those are things that will make a difference. It’s not going to be dismissing 200 teachers out of a system of 45,000 – so we’re trying to take a comprehensive view and really talk about what kind of formative evaluation for a teacher over time supports their development and what kind of ultimately summative evaluation do we need to put in place where in fact you can dismiss teachers if they haven’t responded to support.”

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