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LA Unified, union OK test scores to judge teachers
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Unified School District on Friday reached an agreement with its teachers union to include students' state standardized test scores as a measure of teacher performance.

The nation's second-largest district said the tentative agreement stipulates that classroom observation will form the bulk of a teacher's performance appraisal, but test scores will also be taken into account.

"This agreement strikes a balance that is much needed in the country right now in terms of using students measures of academic progress as both a vehicle to improve instruction and to hold us accountable for the achievement of students in our schools," said Superintendent John Deasy.

Deasy said the district will form a committee to oversee and implement the new evaluation policy, which will go into effect immediately.

Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, which has long opposed using test scores to rate teachers, said data from the California Standards Test will only be used at an initial planning conference to set teachers' performance objectives, not for the final evaluation.

"This is significant because these scores have been found to be an unreliable method of measuring a teacher's effectiveness," Fletcher said.

The agreement came after nearly six months of negotiations and just days ahead of Tuesday's deadline to present a proposed evaluation procedure to a judge presiding over a lawsuit filed against the district last year.

An anonymous group of district families sponsored by EdVoice, a Sacramento-based education reform group, charged that the district was violating California's Stull Act, which mandates that test scores be used to appraise teachers. The judge ruled in June in favor of the families and ordered the district and the union to hammer out an agreement.

The union says test scores are not good measures of teacher effectiveness because students vary individually as learners and teachers particularly in high-poverty, low-performing schools could be unfairly punished.

Opponents say the true impact of a good teacher, including encouraging students, dealing with their problems, and stimulating intellectual curiosity, does not show up in test scores.

The seven-page settlement must still be approved by the judge, the school board and the union membership.

Scott Witlin, attorney for the plaintiff families, said he was heartened that the lawsuit succeeded in making teachers more accountable, but said the agreement still gives teachers a lot of latitude in their evaluations because it does not specify how much weight should be given to test scores.

"At first glance, it meets the smell test," he said. "We'll see how it is implemented."

The dispute over use of test scores in performance appraisals was a key factor that led to an eight-day teachers' strike in Chicago Public Schools in September. The district agreed to limit the weight of test scores to 30 percent in evaluations.