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Legal wrangling stalls LAUSD use of student test scores in teacher evals

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34818 full

More than a month after a judge ruled that L.A. Unified must include student test scores in teacher evaluations, legal wrangling over even a general timeline continues to stall efforts to bring the district in compliance with state law.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant made his ruling in Doe vs. Deasy last month and asked the district, its unions, and the attorney representing parents who brought the suit, to agree on a compliance timeline. Attorneys were to return to court with that timeline today; instead, in multiple court filings over the last six weeks, they continue to disagree over the broadest of details.

"That's 43 days ago, six weeks, where the district is not complying by the law," said Scott Witlin, the attorney who represented parents suing the district in the case. "There doesn't seem to be the requisite urgency to get the district into compliance with the law...Every year this doesn't get done it's another 50,000 kids who've never had their teachers properly evaluated."

After a 40-minute hearing in court this afternoon, the bevy of attorneys were told to go into the hallway and come up with an agreement; otherwise, Chalfant would make a decision unilaterally.

"If you don’t want to run the risk of me mis-recollecting how I ruled, then you should go reach an agreement now," Chalfant said.

The suit was filed in November by the Sacramento-based nonprofit EdVoice on behalf of seven unnamed parents. The core of the brief centers on the 41-year-old “Stull Act,” which requires school districts to “evaluate and assess certificated employee performance as it reasonably relates to the progress of pupils” on district standards of expected achievement in each subject area at each grade level. The act was broadened in 1999 to require evaluation based on student progress on state standardized tests.

In his ruling, Chalfant left the details of how the district must comply with the "pupil progress requirement" primarily to its discretion. He said details such as the system of measurement, how that plays into a teacher's evaluation and how much it is weighted, may all require collective bargaining.

"You've got to do it, you have to consider pupil progress both based on CSTs [state standardized tests] and whatever assessments you want to rely on for district standards in evaluating teachers," Chalfant said. "Now how you go about doing that is a matter of your discretion, how you want to collectively bargain that is a matter to you and your unions."

L.A. Unified attorney Barry Green said the district and its unions agreed on a staggered timeline that included a check-in on progress in September and a final "drop dead date where everything has to be in place" in December.

"We can't just wave our wand and just implement, because we have the unions" to negotiate with, Green said in court today. "We have a gun to us that says we must do that."

Green said the district built into the proposed timeline the fact that parties may reach an impasse and would then need to go through a mediation and fact-finding process under the state's Public Employment Relations Board.

Witlin said he was frustrated by the slow pace of negotiations and that the district and its unions have only sat down three or four times since the judge's June 12 ruling.

"What we've been told is there are lots of impediment to bargaining over this issue, people have vacations, there are travel plans, there are union conventions, well all that is well and good, but when you're not complying with the law you should be doing everything you can to get in compliance with the law," Witlin said.

Witlin said it looked less and less likely that the district would be abiding by the law this school year. He said the district and its unions should be meeting daily to work this out.

Judith Perez, president of the administrator's union, said with the early start of the school year in mid-August, it would be "impossible" to abide by the judge's ruling, which requires adequate training for teachers and administrators as well an understanding of the data and a system for how it should be used.

"We're talking two weeks, I would say that it is impossible to implement a fully-blown changed evaluation system in two weeks," Perez said. She said the union has been in negotiations with the district and has met thrice since the ruling and has four more meetings scheduled.

"We have every intention of reaching an agreement," Perez said.

United Teachers Los Angeles attorney Jesus Quinonez said in court today the union has met with the district four times to discuss implementation and has another seven meetings scheduled.

"There are a bunch of other elements of evaluation that have be addressed here and are being addressed in a very serious way," Quinonez said. He said the union intended to have a system in place in time for evaluations at the end of the 2012-13 school year.

"We could have filed an appeal the day after the judgment was issued and stay all of this. That is not the intent of UTLA. I can speak for UTLA...I can tell you this schedule we agreed to is going to go forward..That is very possible and very doable, ultimately."

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

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