Louisiana transitions to performance evaluations based on student growth as Chicago teachers resist emphasis on accountability  

A new report supports evaluating teachers based on student achievement, an approach that is now being implemented in Louisiana. Unions remain hostile to this trend, including the Chicago teachers who went on strike in opposition to reforms that include being evaluated based on student growth. The study was done by Marcus Winters, a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a public policy think tank in New York City.

The new system of evaluating teacher effectiveness often includes “value-added” data that measures the extra value a teacher adds to a student’s standardized test score. Value-added data offers an objective measure of teacher effectiveness that did not previously exist. Teachers were traditionally judged subjectively based on only classroom visits, which typically happen once every 3 to 5 years for tenured teachers.

According to Winters, value-added holds “considerable promise for removing consistently ineffective teachers and thus improving teacher quality throughout the public school system.” He also claims that using the “measures early in a teacher’s career appear to be good predictors of how well a teacher will perform in the future.” Winters rejects the claim that value-added is “an attack on unions.” Instead, it is “entirely about student success.”

The study coincides with Louisiana’s statewide implementation of value-added in public schools. Gov. Bobby Jindal signed Act 54 into law in 2010, and the state tested the value-added method for two years in 20 pilot districts, allowing for feedback and changes to be made before full implementation this year.

Louisiana teachers will have 50% of their yearly evaluation based on steady growth in standardized test scores. The remaining evaluation will be based on the more traditional classroom visits. Furthermore, formal evaluations will be required every year rather than every 3 years. After two years of ineffectiveness, dismissal proceedings could begin and after three years of ineffectiveness teachers can lose their certification. Tenure, usually automatic after three years, will now take 5 years. Additionally, teachers and principals will be required to start the year by making a plan that establishes student learning goals that will be assessed at year-end.

These reforms have drawn criticism, much of it from teachers unions. After the bill was approved, the Louisiana Association of Educators issued a statement claiming the law “seriously weakens Louisiana’s efforts to recruit and retain [teachers], especially in our high-needs schools.” Louisiana Federation of Teachers president Steve Monaghan argues “The jury is still out on how well the value-added model judges teacher effectiveness.”

The intensity of the debate over assessing teachers based on the growth of their students was on display last week when the Chicago teachers went on strike. Reform efforts by Mayor Rahm Emanuel that include using student test scores to evaluate teachers led to nearly 20,000 teachers headed by Chicago Teachers Union leader Karen Lewis taking to the streets.

Education reformers have long been critical of unions for their refusal to address rigid tenure policies that make it almost impossible to get rid of ineffective teachers. Speaking about the Chicago strike, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush wrote that tenure protections are “so ominous that termination of even the worst teachers is too burdensome to even attempt.”

Reformers point to other reasons for supporting value-added. Rayne Martin, executive director of Stand for Children (STAND), believes the new evaluations will foster a more productive relationship between administration and teachers. According to her, this will “enforce a culture of instruction where administrators allocate more time to provide feedback and advice to teachers, thus helping them help their students.” She also notes that these reforms have been less controversial in Louisiana in part because the state has established a culture of using data to measure school performance and then take appropriate action.