Teacher evaluation law up for changes

The chief sponsor of Louisiana's teacher evaluation law said the change remains a solid idea, but some of the details need reworking.

"I do have some concerns," said state Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe and the author of the 2010 law.

The measure, known in the education establishment as Act 54, overhauled the way about 55,000 public school teachers are evaluated.

Under the old system, teachers faced reviews once every three years, and anything but a "satisfactory" rating was rare.

Under the reviews that began this school year, teachers face annual job reviews and half of the evaluation is linked to the growth of student achievement. The other half stems from traditional classroom reviews.

Teachers rated as "ineffective" in back-to-back years face dismissal.

Hoffmann, who handled the bill on behalf of Gov. Bobby Jindal, said linking student achievement to a teacher's job review remains a good idea.

"But we have some good teachers across the state that have low morale right now," Hoffmann said. "We need to improve that."

Hoffmann said, "It is a work in progress, and it will continue to be a work in progress."

Teacher union leaders and other critics contend the new evaluations are hopelessly flawed. They say the reviews put too much emphasis on the results of standardized tests, and put too many teacher sanctions in motion based on how students fared in one year.

Joyce Haynes, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said the reviews essentially allow a single test in a single year to determine a teacher's job review. "It is the kind of thing that would cause a good teacher to look bad and a bad teacher to look good in any one year," Haynes said.

"You want to get rid of those incompetent in the classroom, but not at the expense of moving some of your best in the process or even stigmatizing some of the best," she said.

But George Noell, the chief architect for details of the new evaluations, said it is misleading to say that a single test determines a teacher's job review.

Student test scores are generally linked to how they did in previous years, and whether they met what the state considers a reasonable improvement.

Noell said most of the tests have several subtests.

The math exam, he said, might cover questions on calculations, geometry and other areas and the English exam might include writing skills, grammar and other topics. "They are families of tests," Noell said.

Whether to make any changes in the evaluations is likely to be debated during the 2013 regular legislative session, which begins on April 8.

Hoffmann said one concern is exactly how teachers are rated as "ineffective," including the weight given to classroom reviews of the teacher by the principal or others.

Teachers rated as "ineffective" in either student achievement or classroom observations get an overall rating of "ineffective."

He said more emphasis may need to be given to the views of principals.

"We just need to make sure," Hoffmann said. "This is important."

In addition, parts of the annual reviews face an uncertain future in the courts.

Nineteenth Judicial District Court Judge R. Michael Caldwell ruled on March 4 that a 2012 law that makes it harder to teachers to earn and retain tenure is unconstitutional.

Attorneys for the state are appealing Caldwell's ruling to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Details of Hoffmann's 2010 law are linked to last year's tenure measure.

Teachers rated as ineffective face corrective action and, if rated as ineffective a second time, they face dismissal.

They would also lose tenure after an initial ineffective rating starting with the 2013-14 school year.

Noell, former executive director of strategic research for the state Department of Education, said he was not surprised by the lawsuits.

"I always thought there would be lots of them," Noell said. "I think the first time someone goes into corrective action there will be lawsuits."

However, Noell said it makes sense to put a cap on the time that teachers have to show improvements.

Educators say students rarely recover if they have three consecutive troubled teachers.

"You want to treat teachers right," he said. "But the children are also in the room."