Jindal teacher reviews frozen

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s hard-fought bid to link teacher job reviews to the growth of student achievement — a key plank in his push to improve Louisiana’s public schools — has been sidelined until after he leaves office.

The provision, which Jindal pushed through the Legislature in 2010, connects many of the roughly 50,000 annual teacher evaluations to how students fare in the classroom.

But that rule, which teacher unions bitterly oppose, has been set aside until at least the 2015-16 school year, in part because of complaints about the state’s adoption of tougher academic standards called Common Core.

Jindal has to leave office in January 2016 because he cannot serve three consecutive terms.

The two-year change in how teachers are reviewed is one of a series of policies approved last week by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which is dominated by allies of the governor.

The modifications are aimed at softening the impact for students and teachers when Louisiana fully adopts Common Core during the 2014-15 school year.

State school leaders have said for months that they would have to change school rules during the move to national academic goals, and complaints from teachers, parents and others helped shape some of the response.

But how long the changes will last has not gone unnoticed.

“Guess what? That’s right after the election,” Lottie Beebe, a member of BESE, said during discussion of a related policy undergoing tweaks.

Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said she is heartened by the moratorium — the LAE opposes the reviews — but was struck by the timing.

“We are a little bit surprised by that as well,” Meaux said.

“I don’t want to be cynical about why that is happening,” she added. “But what I do think may happen in the future is that there will be some changes in the law based on who becomes governor.”

Whether the Jindal-backed review system returns “depends on the next governor,” Meaux said.

Asked for comment, the governor issued a prepared statement that said the moratorium will give the state time amid rising academic expectations to gather data and make future reviews linked to student achievement work.

“It is also fair to teachers who are being evaluated during the transition,” the statement says.

The law under scrutiny is one of the most controversial of the changes Jindal has pushed to, in his view, improve Louisiana’s long-suffering student achievement in public schools.

Similar measures have won approval in many other states since 2009.

Under the Jindal-backed overhaul, about one-third of public school teachers — around 17,000 — were reviewed by linking half of the job evaluation to the growth of student achievement. Insiders call it the Value Added Model, or VAM.

The other half of the yearly review was tied to traditional classroom observations by principals and others.

The check applies to those who teach math, English, science and social studies, all of which can be tied to objective test results.

The new reviews were used officially for the first time earlier this year.

Nearly one in three public school teachers got the top rating.

Four percent were rated as ineffective, which means they could be put on a path to dismissal if they get the same rating next year under the modified system.

What BESE did last week was approve a “transition” plan that will set aside the use of student achievement in 2014 and 2015 in evaluation calculations.

State Superintendent of Education John White, the author of the plan and Jindal’s chief public schools lieutenant, said the moratorium is needed to give teachers and students time to adjust to Common Core standards in math, reading and writing.

“This is one of those things that I was referring to as the common sense pause,” said Stephanie Desselle, who follows public school issues for the Council for a Better Louisiana.

“Absolutely you have to pause the VAM,” Desselle said. “After two years then you can see where you are. That will be the new baseline.”

Under the new evaluation model, half of the evaluation for public school teachers for the next two years will be based on whether they meet academic goals agreed to by teachers and principals at the start of the school year.

Those goals are called student learning targets.

The other half of the review will consist of classroom observations by principals and others.

Critics of linking teacher evaluations to the growth of student achievement have praised the pause and said teachers should not be linked to yearly gains on student test scores.

“It was not ready for prime time,” said Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, which opposes the Jindal-backed job reviews.

White said the change in how teachers are reviewed stemmed from months of discussions with teachers.

He said most of the new public school accountability measures backed by the governor and Legislature remain in effect.

“This is a technical adjustment that has been made because the tests are changing from one year to the next,” White said.