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Judge tentatively rules LAUSD must include student progress in teacher evaluations

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A judge tentatively ruled today that the Los Angeles Unified School District is not abiding by a 41-year-old state law that requires student progress be included as a measure in teacher evaluations.

Both parties will be in court Tuesday to make their arguments in Doe vs. Deasy before Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant. Chalfant will then issue a final ruling.

“The District does not currently comply with the Stull Act's requirement that teachers and principals be evaluated by the progress of students toward District standards, however measured, and by the progress of students toward State standards as measured by the CSTs. The District must do so, and a writ will issue compelling this task," Chalfant writes in his ruling.

The suit was filed in November by the Sacramento-based nonprofit EdVoice on behalf of seven unnamed parents.

At its core is the “Stull Act,” enacted in 1971, which requires school districts “evaluate and assess certificated employee performance as it reasonably relates to the progress of pupils” on standards established by the district of expected achievement in each subject area at each grade level. 

In 1999, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was the speaker in the state Assembly and sponsored an amendment to include that the Act require evaluation based on student progress on “state adopted academic content standards as measured by the state adopted criterion referenced assessments” or standardized tests.

In an amicus curiae brief filed on Villaraigosa’s behalf, his attorney states that LAUSD is not complying with the Stull Act and that it needs to incorporate student progress as one of multiple measures of teacher effectiveness. 

“Of the 27 indicators of teacher performance in the LAUSD evaluation, not one asks whether students are making gains toward standards,” the brief states.

Though the suit names LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, the district and the school board as defendants, it provides Deasy with leverage in his fight with the United Teachers Los Angeles to roll out a pilot program that includes students' academic growth over time as a measure of teacher effectiveness. The judge quoted freely from Deasy's deposition in drawing up his 25-page ruling.

"Superintendent Deasy agrees that the District's current evaluation system does not comply with the Stull Act," Chalfton writes. "Thus, he testified that there is not uniform process to include any student achievement in teacher evaluations...The District does not address Superintendent Deasy's admissions that the evluation system for teachers and principals does not use student progress toward District or State standards. He is, after all, the employing authority responsible for teacher and administrator evaluations.

"His admissions underscore the above conclusion that the District is not complying with the Stull Act."

An attorney representing the district said he does not comment on tentative rulings.

UTLA President Warren Fletcher said the union is willing to discuss with the district a way to include student progress as a measure in teacher evaluations as long as it does not "deform instruction." He said the pilot program was created without input from the union and that the system put in place needs to be bargained.

"We need to do it in a way that does not harm instruction and does not dumb down instruction," Fletcher said. "Teachers welcome accountability...but we want to do it in a way that does not deform instruction."

In his tentative ruling, Chalfant leaves the details of how it would comply with the "pupil progress requirement" to the district.

"The District is not required to directly consider pupil progress in these evaluations, but there must be a nexus between pupil progress and the evaluations," Chalfant writes. "No such nexus currently exists."

Deasy said L.A. Unified would look to Judge Chalfant to include guidance around the timeframe for when the district must be in compliance. 

"The system for years and years, as seen by the judge, did not comply," Deasy said. "I represent the system while moving it as fast as possible toward where we need to be...

"We do need to work with UTLA to create the best formal evaluation system, obviously the one we have right now is neither completely legal, nor doing the job."

*This story has been updated.

Correction: An earlier version of this story identified Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge as James C. Chalfont. His last name is Chalfant.

Tami Abdollah can be reached via email and on Twitter (@latams).

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