Teacher reviews spark new flap

A decision by state Superintendent of Education John White to delay final action on the evaluations of some public school teachers points to bigger problems with the new reviews, an official of a teachers’ union said Tuesday.

Michael Walker-Jones, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said his group believes the flaws are widespread.

“We think there may be thousands,” said Walker-Jones, whose group has long been critical of the new evaluations.

But White responded Tuesday that reviews for only a smattering of teachers are being sidetracked for further study.

He said that, in most of the cases, students were performing at high levels but the teachers were rated as “ineffective,” a rating which can eventually lead to their dismissal.

“As we move toward greater discretion for principals, I believe these specific cases merit further study and consideration and have thus asked our team to list them as ‘pending further study’ in your reports,” White said in a recent message to local superintendents.

White said most of the students of the roughly 50 teachers whose results were delayed were performing at “advanced,” “mastery” or “excellent” levels.

The latest issue dovetails with concerns raised last year.

In that case, leaders at Westdale Heights Academic Magnet School, the LSU Laboratory School, both in Baton Rouge, and other high-achieving public schools around the state complained that, in trial runs, their teachers were being unfairly labeled as “ineffective” because of flaws in the new reviews.

They said top students whose test results dropped from the previous year were getting poor marks even though the students were scoring at high levels.

The issue sparking LAE criticism surfaced in a message that White sends to local school superintendents, one in a series of updates.

The state recently turned over to local officials evaluation results for teachers statewide based on their performance during the 2012-13 school year.

White said about 50 cases statewide were held back for more study.

“We held back 50 out of 50,000,” he said Wednesday, the latter a reference to public school teaching ranks in Louisiana.

“That means 99.9 percent of the principals have the information and they can use it.”

The teacher evaluations have sparked controversy for years, mostly because half the results for math, science and other teachers are based on the growth of student achievement.

They account for about 16,500 of the 50,000 teachers.

The rest, including art, speech and gym teachers, were to be judged by student learning targets, which are goals teachers and principals agree to at the start of the school year.

But White said all teachers now get student learning targets and all are subject to classroom observations by principals, who he said enjoy wide latitude in coming up with the final rating.

“If we don’t trust our principals enough to come to decisions about teachers in their schools then we have a problem,” he said.

Walker-Jones said the LAE is checking reports that even former teachers of the year have gotten dismal evaluations.

“That is why we think there needs to be an investigation,” he said.

White said the LAE criticism is off target.

“It is pretty clear that the state is trying to move forward and the LAE wants to continue to drag us back into a discussion about whether there should be accountability,” he said.

“They don’t want accountability. That is their objective.”