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State law and policies deny teachers fair, accurate evaluations

Monaghan: “It is easy to see why all roads lead to the courtroom.”

(Baton Rouge – September 3, 2013) Claims by the State Department of Education that its new system of teacher evaluation is fair and accurate are belied by real-world evidence, Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan said today.

Following the release of a year’s data compiled from the COMPASS evaluation system, Monaghan said that state law and policies deny a fair review of results to teachers who are evaluated under the controversial Value Added Model.

“We know that the State Superintendent of Education has invalidated a certain number of evaluations,” Monaghan said. “We don’t know how many have been changed, where they have been changed, or what grounds were used to decide that changes should be made.

“For a system that has been touted as based on irrefutable scientific formulas,” he said, “this report raises many more questions than it answers. One, thing is very clear, there is no legitimate reason to deny teachers the right to question the findings.”

Only about one-third of Louisiana’s public school teachers, those who teach courses that are subject to routine standardized testing, are subjected to the Value Added Model.

“That raises a disturbing point,” Monaghan said. “It means that we have separate evaluation systems, but a single determination of a teacher’s ability. This was unfair when the legislation was introduced, it was unfair when the bill was signed into law, and it remains unfair today.”

Teachers who are not subject to the Value Added Model are evaluated by classroom observations and by Student Learning Targets, which are goals for each student that are supposed to be agreed upon by the teacher and the principal.

Value Added Model teachers are evaluated by classroom observation and the VAM, a complicated algebraic formula that is supposed to predict how much growth a student should make based on standardized test scores. Critics of the Value Added Model say that the margin of error in the formula can reach 30 percent.

VAM teachers are also expected to create Student Learning Targets, but those are not used in their evaluation.

“The Value Added score is supposed to be irrefutably accurate,” Monaghan said, “although a teacher may ask the local superintendent to request the state superintendent to invalidate the score.

“But there is no requirement that the local superintendent act on the request, or that the state superintendent comply,” Monaghan said. “That subjectivity makes a mockery of the evaluation process.”

Monaghan also said that Department of Education policy differs from state law in deciding how teachers should be evaluated.

The law says that 50% of the evaluation should be based on classroom observation and 50% on the objective, scientific model. But the policy says that if a teacher is rated “ineffective” in either category, the final evaluation will be ineffective.

“We are looking at cases in which teachers are rated highly effective on their classroom observation, and highly effective on Student Learning Targets, but ineffective on VAM scores,” Monaghan said. “Their students all showed growth but, for a number of reasons, did not meet the expectation of the VAM. Those teachers are labeled as ineffective even though all the evidence shows that they are excellent teachers.”

Because of the flawed system, these teachers become at-will employees who may be fired at any time, and are not eligible for pay raises.

“Looking at the flaws in the system,” Monaghan said, “it is easy to see why all roads lead to the courtroom. It is unfortunate that state officials refuse to make changes to the laws and policies. That leaves teachers with no alternative but to pursue legal remedies in courts around Louisiana.”

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