Teacher evaluation delay passes Louisiana House

Another bill blocks high school rating changes

In a turnaround from last year, the state House on Monday voted 102-0 to put off for one year the major impact of the new job evaluations for public school teachers.

On another issue, the House approved a bill that would block state plans to change how public high schools are graded.

Under the current evaluation timetable, teachers rated as “ineffective” for two consecutive years could be dismissed at the end of the 2013-14 school year.

House Bill 160 would push that back to the 2014-15 school year.

Backers said the delay would give officials more time to iron out flaws in the system, and send a message to anxious teachers that lawmakers hear their concerns.

“The timeline here is good for teachers,” said state Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Bossier City.

HB160 next faces action in the state Senate.

The lopsided vote marks a sharp contrast with legislative action barely one year ago, when tougher rules for teachers and others shot through the Louisiana House as part of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education overhaul.

The new teacher job reviews are underway in the current school year.

Under the new reviews, half of the results are linked to the growth of student achievement and half to traditional classroom observations by principals and others.

The proposal is backed by Louisiana’s two teacher unions as well as groups representing school boards and superintendents statewide.

The Jindal administration, through state Superintendent of Education John White, has stopped just short of endorsing the delay.

State Rep. Gene Reynolds, D-Dubberly, said training for the new evaluations has been uneven around the state. “In our opinion we need to put this on hold,” Reynolds said.

On another public school topic, the House voted 70-28 to block state plans that would make ACT scores — a measure of college readiness — a key part of how public high schools are graded.

House Bill 466 would retain the grading system the way it operated for the 2011-12 school year, which would exclude ACT results.

White has said the ACT scores are vital for all students, not just those who plan to attend college.

He said the state later this year would issue two letter grades per school, with and without the ACT scores, as a way to smooth the transition.

But critics said two grades would confuse parents and that even the state’s top-scoring public high schools would drop a grade letter or two under the new system.

State Rep. J. Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs, backed HB466 as a solid product of talks among principals, superintendents and others. “If we are going to label schools, let’s do it in a way that is fair and equitable,” said Pope, former superintendent of the Livingston Parish school system.

The measure would also require Louisiana’s top school board to win the permission of the state House and Senate committees before it makes future changes in the school grading system.

House Education Committee Chairman Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, said the rollback comes at a time when the state is spending $3.4 billion on public school aid and student achievement is ranked 48th nationally.

“It seems like we are going backward rather than forward,” Carter said of HB466, which is sponsored by state Rep. Kenny Havard, R-St. Francisville.