Changing how teachers make the grade

The Los Angeles Unified School Board voted unanimously Wednesday to reform teacher evaluations.

The district will now begin negotiating with members of the teachers’ and administrators’ unions.

All sides agree that the current method of grading teachers needs work, but controversy remains over how to measure something as complicated as good teaching.

“It would be very difficult to design a worse system than we have currently,” says Gabe Rose, the deputy director of a Los Angeles parents’ union. He said valuations are not based on fact.

“The current system uses data for zero percent of evaluation,” he said. “It completely ignores and throws out all the data that Los Angeles Unified School District collects.”

That data, called “value added,” measures how much students’ test scores improve over the year.

But the teachers’ union and other groups worry that such numbers do not tell the whole story.

David Tokofsky, a former teacher and board member who represents the administrators’ union, said the tests ignore all subjects except English and math. He also said the tests might miss other parts of teaching.

“The excitement aspect, you can’t measure that as smiles per minute, but you certainly can measure whether or not a child is feeling competent enough,” he said.

South Los Angeles parent Rob McGowan agreed.

“Just like parents don’t want to be seen in a negative light over one thing, or one aspect, of what’s happening with their kids out of context, I think the same holds true for teachers,” he said.

School district officials agree that testing should not be the only metric used. They said most of the debate going forward will be about how large a part those test scores should play.

“What you’re going to see is a discussion around how much weight does each of these multiple measures get, and how do you do the specific formulas,” said Drew Furedi, a policy expert for the district. “And I think that’s to be discussed.”

Furedi did not know how long those negotiations would take.