What DIDN’T happen in California

First, let me apologize for the radio silence. My husband is teaching at NYU Law School this semester, and the move from southern Utah to Manhattan has eaten up the week. I’ve finally unpacked my boxes and (full disclosure time) visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art twice. Meanwhile forty-one AP U.S. History essays have landed in my inbox. Maybe it’s time to get back to work.

In that spirit, I’d like to continue my posts on education reform around the country with a report from California. Here the news isn’t a new initiative, but rather an old initiative that survived a legislative challenge . . . and a defeat that may signal  seismic shifts in the state’s education politicss.

As the LA Times reports,

Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar) had revived a long-dormant bill, AB 5, in the last few weeks of the legislative session to push forward his plan for a statewide uniform teacher evaluation system featuring more performance reviews, classroom observations, training of evaluators and public input into the review process.

But the bill, supported by the powerful California Teachers Assn., attracted a firestorm of criticism over the costs to financially strapped districts and the requirement to negotiate with unions every element of evaluations, including the use of state standardized test scores. (my emphasis). Teachers unions have vociferously argued that test scores are too unreliable for use in key personnel decisions.

As opposition grew — more than 45 education, parent, civil rights and business organizations fought the bill — Fuentes announced Thursday, the eve of the legislative session’s final day, that he would abandon his efforts.


So why, you might ask, would “education, parent, civil rights and business organizations” fight a bill to create a statewide teacher evaluation system? For that matter, why was the California teacher’s union fighting for this bill? (It has not exactly led the fight for more stringent teacher evaluations.)

Read a little further:

Bill Lucia of EdVoice, a Sacramento-based educational advocacy group that helped spearhead opposition efforts, said the bill had started out with good intentions. But changes, including the elimination of requirements to use state standardized test scores in evaluations and the lack of adequate funding, would have set back efforts in Los Angeles and elsewhere to develop a strong teacher evaluation system, he said.

The Los Angeles Unified School District has launched a voluntary evaluation program that uses state test scores as one measure of teacher effectiveness. Supt. John Deasy had said that the legislation would virtually end those efforts because the district would probably not be able to win agreement over it with United Teachers Los Angeles. The union is urging teachers not to participate in the program.

You won’t get the answer in the LA Times article, but other coverage of the bill’s demise gives more back story.

California has had a law around since 1972, the Stull Act, that puts test scores front and center in teacher evaluations but whose impact has been blunted over the years. In June, a Superior Court judge ordered the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to start using standardized test scores in evaluating the effectiveness of teachers but did not specifically say how that should be put into practice.

The union interpreted the ruling to mean it was subject to collective bargaining. LAUSD Superintendent of Schools John Deasy said the ruling meant the school district could develop an evaluation system without negotiations.

After the court decision, AB5, which had originally surfaced as a bill in 2010 without union support, was retooled by Democratic Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes as a vehicle more attuned to labor’s sensibilities. But it failed to garner enough support to advance in the Legislature.


The really interesting question, to my mind: What happens next – in Los Angeles, and throughout the state? State law requires that test scores be included in teacher evaluations. Up until the recent court decision, this law has been largely ignored. Stay tuned.



  1. howard beale

    Until class sizes, especially here in Utah, come down to reasonable levels I’m not sure any evaluations of teachers would be valid or fair. I think it is unfair to come down hard on teachers where they might be teaching over 30 elementary students and over 40 students in secondary. Give teachers the support they needed including reasonable class sizes than I think any evaluation program and instrument might have validity and fair. It is not fair to expect teachers to be Jaime Escalante in these situations…

  2. Vaughn Weston

    The idea of using standardized test score results from students is not a meaningful method if only the final yearly scores are used. To fairly score teachers the students beginning point would need to be established with one standardized test score and then the final score at the end of the year. If this is not done then any evaluation on a single score is a guess, and depends on the ability and prior education of the individual students.

    When a teacher has 30 students, with 10-12 requiring resource help in one or more subjects it is impractical to score them on these students level on a standardized test because they will not be able to come up to the standards in a single year, while the teacher has to also insure that the other students meet the goals that are expected.

    The current new programs that have been introduced this year in the Granite District in elementary grades demonstrate that the consultants and the administrators set unrealistic goals in many cases. The Math program for the 3rd grade presents concepts at the beginning of the year that the Students are not capable of understanding. When taught the concepts they end up with blank looks on their faces as the try to comprehend the instruction.

    This is a case of the “EXPERTS” thinking that the students are further ahead than they really are.

    • Mary McConnell

      You raise two good, but I think separate, points.

      First, standardized test scores are only useful if they provide some reasonable basis of comparison, including other factors that have an impact on results, including income, family background, knowledge of English, etc. That is why most advocates of using test scores as part of evaluation hold out for some kind of value-added approach that measures how much a student’s proficiency has grown in a given year whatever his or her starting point. Even these measurements aren’t trouble free: They don’t work for all grades and subjects, and they are much more reliable averaged over three or more years. Still, where this data can be collected I think it adds valuable information to teacher evaluations.

      Second, you raise the issue of unrealistic expectations. Well-designed value-added systems, again, should partly take care of this problem, since they measure how far the same students have progressed from their initial baseline. In other words, if a child enters third grade with only first grade math skills, and those skills improve significantly in third grade while still falling short of third grade “proficiency,” the value-added score would still be high. If raw scores alone are the measure, without consideration of where the child started, yes, I agree that this is not a fair way to evaluate teachers, although it still provides useful information that should be shared with parents, teachers and administrators.

      What worries me about your comment is that it’s very tempting to write the standards down until most students pass, instead of struggling to figure out how to improve student proficiency. That’s been one of the worst unintended consequences of No Child Left Behind, and Utah is often cited as a major offender in this regard.

      So yes, teachers have to start where the students start – it’s not fair to penalize us for students who enter our classrooms unprepared. Is it fair to ask if those students moved forward significantly, from wherever they started, in our classrooms? Yes, I think that IS fair, though I still concede that it can be difficult to measure.

  3. John Greene Jackson NJ

    Two things must occur but will not occur in our lifetime to insure children in inner city schools get a real education: 1) Teachers’ Unions must be eliminatee, 2) Children born out of wedlock must cease being a part of the inner city culture; no fathers in the homes will insure pathetic outcomes for their children.

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