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Group sues 13 school districts for not using test scores in teacher evaluations

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by Howard Blume
Los Angeles Times
July 16, 2015

An education advocacy group sued 13 California school districts Thursday, claiming that they have ignored a state law requiring teachers’ performance evaluations to include student standardized test scores.

The lawsuit targets the largest school systems in the state that have barred such use of test results through collective-bargaining agreements with teachers unions. These contract provisions are illegal under state law, according to the complaint, which was filed in Contra Costa County.

The litigation represents the latest effort by Students Matter, a Los Angeles-based group that has turned to California courts to make changes in education law that were otherwise blocked at the state and local levels. The organization was founded by tech entrepreneur David F. Welch to build on other attempts to limit teacher job protections and hold them more accountable for student achievement.

Many states and school systems are using scores in instructors’ performance reviews in part because the Obama administration has offered them incentives, including grants and exemptions from some federal rules and penalties. The practice is among those favored by such influential organizations as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and typically opposed by teacher unions.

Students Matter scored a victory last year when a Superior Court judge in Los Angeles ruled that several teacher job protections were unconstitutional. That case, Vergara vs. California, was watched nationally and spawned similar litigation in New York. The California ruling is on hold pending appeals.

If that decision is upheld, teachers would lose the right to earn tenure, and layoffs would no longer be based on seniority. The process for firing instructors also would be streamlined. The Legislature could pass laws restoring some of these job protections in another form, but they would have to survive court scrutiny.

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