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Bill to revamp teacher evaluations in California headed for final vote in state Senate

A view of the California State Capitol in Sacramento. The state legislature has announced it will suspend provisions of the Brown Act public meeting law in an effort to shave 96-million in spending over the next three years.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
A view of the California State Capitol in Sacramento.

California's state senate could vote as early as Wednesday on a bill that would change the way school districts evaluate teachers. If it passes, the measure could unravel Los Angeles Unified’s voluntary evaluation system — and could nullify a Superior Court judge’s ruling earlier this year ordering the district to follow California law and include student test results in its teacher evaluations.

Assembly Bill 5, by state Sen. Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar), would strike the state’s requirement to include those test scores in the process and would replace it with a mandate for school districts to develop teacher evaluations based on "best practices." Negotiations with teachers’ unions and public hearings would determine what that means.

United Teachers Los Angeles President Warren Fletcher said the process would create better ways for districts to measure teachers’ progress.

“California has always wanted to balance a rigorous system that assures that there’s quality at every school district, with the understanding that in every district the needs and desires are different,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher said a district that has a lot of kids still learning English may decide it doesn’t make sense to emphasize scores from the standardized tests those students take. In the case of Los Angeles, where Superintendent John Deasy wants to include them, he said test scores will be part of the discussion.

But Erin Shaw with the national education advocacy group Students First said the bill would pull the rug out from under school districts. “They have to go to the bargaining table on the entire system for the teacher evaluations. It’s going to make their forward progress difficult,” Shaw said.

Shaw worries about a statewide bill that would lack any requirement for so-called objective metrics like student test scores. She thinks that’s too important an ingredient to leave out.

She said, under AB5, teacher evaluations will lack uniformity that would allow the state to be able to measure outcomes. “Are we improving the educational instruction that’s being delivered in the classroom? Are we retaining teachers? Are we developing their talent within the classroom?”

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg acknowledged the “controversy” around the bill, but said he supports it.

“In the end, there is still a lot of work to do to determine how best to link student performance with teacher evaluation, and I think the bill is an advance,” Steinberg said.

The bill appears headed for a full Senate vote, unless Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) pulls the measure for a hearing in the Senate's Education Committee that he chairs. Last year, when the bill got shelved, Lowenthal said he would want to vet any amendments before a floor vote. Lowenthal's office did not return calls for comment.

If the Senate passes AB5, it heads next to the governor’s desk.