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Putting teachers to the test

La Cañada officials weigh in on Los Angeles Times report on rating instructors.

August 18, 2010|By Andrew Shortall, andrew.shortall@latimes.com

A Sunday Los Angeles Times article has sparked debate across California about whether teachers should be evaluated based on their students' test scores.

The article collected data over a seven-year span and analyzed more than 6,000 elementary school teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The findings showed a vast difference between how well teachers' students scored.

All of the information has been at the disposal of Los Angeles Unified but mostly ignored by the district, according to the report.

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A.J. Duffy, president of the United Teachers Los Angeles, called for a massive boycott of The Times on Sunday in response to the article, saying the quality of a teacher cannot be determined by a test.

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke out in favor of releasing individual teachers' test scores. Duncan said he believes parents have the right to know how their children's teachers are performing.

Similar dissension has crept up in La Cañada.

"[Test scores are] something that should not be shared," said Rick Jordan, president of the La Cañada Teacher's Assn. "There are many other means for parents to get information on their children's teachers. We have never released an individual teacher's scores because it could be misinterpreted or inflammatory."

In La Cañada Unified, individual student test scores are available to teachers so they can make changes where they deem necessary, but a teacher's contract with LCUSD states that information cannot be made public.

La Cañada school board members Cindy Wilcox and Joel Peterson said the method used in The Times article could be a helpful tool.

Peterson said the board has looked at using such information but needs to see if it's applicable to La Cañada Unified, a much smaller school district than Los Angeles Unified. Teacher-performance metrics are a key goal the board has put in place for Supt. Jim Stratton, Peterson said.

Jordan fears using teacher-performance data to help evaluate teachers will shift too much importance on test scores.

"It's a very slippery slope to start putting too much emphasis on test scores," Jordan said. "They can be very easily persuaded."

The problem with test scores, Jordan said, is their unreliability because many variables affect how a class fares on a standardized test.

The time of day, learning level of the students and classroom conditions can all have negative effects on test performance, he said.

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