Teacher evaluation change clears committee

Advocate staff photo by ARTHUR D. LAUCK -- State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, questions Wednesday a bill on teacher performance ratings. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by ARTHUR D. LAUCK -- State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, questions Wednesday a bill on teacher performance ratings.

A bill that would prevent public school teachers from facing sanctions before their job evaluations are complete won approval Wednesday in the Louisiana House Education Committee.

The vote was 8-4, sending the measure to the full House for consideration.

But the lateness of the session — the Legislature adjourns on June 6 — means the proposal faces major hurdles to final approval.

The legislation is House Bill 129 by state Rep. Vincent Pierre, D-Lafayette.

It focuses on Louisiana’s new method for evaluating public school teachers, in which 50 percent of the review is linked to classroom observations by principals and others and 50 percent from the growth of student achievement.

Backers of the bill said that, early in the school year, teachers are facing intensive assistance after learning they have gotten an “ineffective” rating on just one part of their job review — classroom observations.

They said no sanctions or other action should be launched until both parts of the review are done at the end of the school year.

Mary-Patricia Wray, legislative and political director for the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said her group backs the bill and has heard first-hand complaints from educators.

Wray said the message from administrators to teachers has been “Well, we have your evaluation. It wasn’t great. Do you want to retire or be terminated?”

State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, a member of the committee who backed Pierre’s bill, said state law makes clear that teachers are to get their full evaluations at the end of the school year.

Under the new evaluations, teachers rated as “ineffective” in either category are given an “ineffective” rating.

Those who get such a label for two years in a row can lose their jobs.

Erin Bendily, assistant superintendent for the state Department of Education, said the bill risks tying the hands of principals.

Bendily said current policies allow teachers in need of assistance to start the process early in the school year.

“If they need help we don’t want them to have to wait six months into the process,” she said.