Speaker, Fuentes join forces on new teacher evaluation bill

The closely-watched effort in the Legislature to revise the process for evaluating the performance of California teachers appears to have coalesced behind a measure that would require the state’s economic conditions to improve greatly before any new mandates kick in.

The bill would for the first time, however, call on school districts to use student outcomes as part of the performance analysis while giving local boards authority to negotiate the weight test scores would have.

The proposal requires districts to adopt and implement a set ‘best practices’ which are drawn from the existing California Standards for the Teaching Profession.

The frequency of evaluations would remain largely the same, but districts would be called on to use multiple measurements judged by administrators and teachers alike who both are trained in the practice.

It also requires that the new system be locally negotiated between the districts and their bargaining units.

AB 5 by Assemblyman Filipe Fuentes, D-Los Angeles, has undergone significant change since being introduced at the first of the year. Amended recently to now include many of the features of a similar bill offered by Assembly Speaker John Perez, the bill is now pending before the Senate Appropriations Committee as the most viable vehicle for teacher evaluation reform that will be considered this session.

Despite including many compromise components and the support of the Speaker’s office, many challenges persist. The California Teachers Association, for instance, remains opposed.

And there are cost issues. The state’s existing evaluation system, known as the Stull Act, costs about $20 million annually to implement. Some say, the new model could double even triple the costs.

But the bill’s author said last week that the proposal provides badly needed change to a system that most in the education community agree is flawed.

“The current teacher evaluation system is inconsistent and doesn’t properly evaluate if a teacher is effective or not,” said Fuentes. “AB 5 would improve education by setting up a clear and comprehensive teacher evaluation system, which for the first time, would require test scores to be included.”

Debate over teacher evaluations has emerged a key education issue nationally, spurred by the Obama administration’s interest in linking compensation with test scores.

In many states the proposal has sparked intense, often emotional conflict that has been bundled with fights over public pensions and bargaining rights.

Supporters of the use of test scores have argued that high value, summative evaluations play a major role determining pay in many professions – the batting average of major league baseball players is often used as an example.

Critics, however, point out that even test publishers warn against using their assessments to evaluate teachers because the systems are not designed to make that analysis.

AB 5, architects of the bill said, offers an alternative. Instead of requiring raw test scores to be specifically used – the bill sets up a required system where test data is used as a tool to help administrators and teachers evaluate what is and is not working in the classroom and how to improve performance.

“With the introduction of AB 5, the Legislature in this state has said that we are going to center the debate on improving instruction,” said Patricia Rucker, legislative advocate for CTA and a member of the California State Board of Education.

“It changes the conversation from one where administrators are going into classrooms looking for bad teaching – to one where we are looking at what you are doing well and how do you improve that,” she said.

Although CTA has called the new version of AB 5 a step in the right direction, they are still opposing the bill. One because there is no provision to include school principals in a similar evaluation process and also over issues related to training of evaluators and a system to calibrate subjective elements of the evaluation.

Also problematic for the bill’s author is a provision that would delay implementation until economic conditions improve greatly.

More specifically, the bill would replace the Stull Act with the new evaluation system on July 1 of the “first fiscal year following the fiscal year in which the deficit factor is reduced to zero,” according to a legislative analysis.

The deficit factor is a term used to describe an ongoing debt owed public schools as the result of the Legislature suspending cost of living increases that otherwise would be paid as part of the revenue limit funding. The non-partisan Legislative Analyst reports that currently the deficit factor debt is $8 billion.

Some skeptics suggest that it will be years, perhaps many years, before the Legislature can whittle down that figure. Others insist that the debt has been paid off before.

Supporters of AB 5 also contend that the new components of the bill cannot be simply dropped onto districts and with that the new system will be higher costs that the state will have to pay for.

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Ed’s Note: Cabinet Report is the only comprehensive news service covering K-12 education issues in California. To subscribe visit Registration required. Selected stories have been shared with Capitol Weekly with permission from School Innovations & Advocacy, owner and publisher. To contact reporter Tom Chorneau:

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