LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Unified School District is violating state law by not including measures of student achievement, including test scores, in teacher evaluations and must do so, a Superior Court judge ruled on Monday.
The 25-page opinion by Judge James Chalfant is a tentative decision in a lawsuit filed last year by an anonymous group of LAUSD families sponsored by EdVoice, a Sacramento-based education reform group, against the district.
The judge is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case on Tuesday and issue a final ruling next month, but the tentative decision weighs heavily on the side of the plaintiffs.
The ruling concludes with Chalfant stating that he will issue an order compelling the district to comply with a 1999 law called the Stull Act, which mandates school districts use some measure of pupil progress in teacher and administrator evaluations and use standardized test scores to measure their progress in complying with state academic standards.
"It's a strong ruling," said Bill Lucia, president and chief executive of EdVoice. "It's clear the judge has not been muddled by the red herring arguments presented by the district. It's very, very encouraging to the parents."
The decision gives the nation's second largest school district new ammunition in its long-running battle with teachers and administrators' unions over use of test scores in performance evaluations.
LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy said through a spokesman that he agrees with the judge's tentative ruling, adding that the district has waited far too long to comply with the law.
"The system itself that we currently use is absent the kind of fundamental goal of the whole process of an education, and that is how do students do," Deasy said in a deposition, as cited in the ruling.
The district is testing the use of a new appraisal system, which includes test scores, in a number of schools with the aim of issuing more meaningful feedback to teachers.
Teachers union United Teachers Los Angeles maintains that any change in evaluation procedures should be negotiated in collective bargaining.
UTLA officials had not fully reviewed Chalfant's opinion, but President Warren Fletcher said that the union will obey the law and will devise an evaluation system with the district that supports instruction, not limiting to it to test-teaching.
"UTLA will not negotiate an evaluation system that creates an incentive to degrade instruction or narrow curriculum," Fletcher said.
The teachers union has said that test scores and grades are not good measures of teacher effectiveness because students vary individually as learners. The true impact of a good teacher, including encouraging students, dealing with student problems, and stimulating intellectual curiosity, may not show up in test scores, opponents say.
The current evaluation form encompasses 27 criteria for performance appraisal, but none deal directly with whether students are learning, said Scott Witlin, attorney for the families.
Witlin said he surveyed 599 evaluations and found only three that commented on whether students were learning and only a dozen that commented on tests.
"That's not exactly a stellar percentage," he said. "It's pretty rare that whether students are achieving or even progressing toward their goals is even mentioned."
Judge Chalfant rejected the plaintiffs' request that evaluations be conducted more frequently than under the Stull Act, saying that was outside his scope. But he said he could certainly order an agency to comply with the law.