Value Added in California

Recently, the LA Times ran a series of reports on the Los Angeles Unified School District and how effective its third through fifth grade teachers have been in improving students test scores over a period of 7 years, from 2002-03 through 2008-09, using an evaluation method called  “value-added.” In a nutshell, the value added approach measures a student’s improvement on test scores over a period of time. The Times went on to post the names of nearly 6000 educators and where they ranked from effective to ineffective, based on the results of the students’ math and English test scores.

Wow, is all I have to say. First of all, administrators in the district never gave teachers the results before their names were to be published by the L.A. Times. When they finally received their standings before the articles were made public, many who were ranked highly in the results had no idea what they were doing right, just as those who ranked poorly, had no idea what they were doing wrong.

By September 3rd, there were around 230,000 hits on the L.A Times website. Of all the districts the Times could have reported on, they picked one of the most populous districts in the country, 740,000 students, second largest in the nation, which garner their own set of unique problems and circumstances.

More than 530,000 students in LAUSD qualify to receive free or reduced-price meals during the school year, but many do not get enough to eat when school is out, so there is the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) to ensure that all children between the ages of one and 18 have food to eat during the summer months. Nearly half of all students speak another language, other than English, at home. According to Professor Vyacheslav Ivanov, of UCLA, there are at least 92 languages spoken by students in the LAUSD.

LAUSD is one of the few districts in the country that has its own police department. Several high schools with student populations over 1000, have hosted racial brawls, gang fights, sex offenses, robberies, batteries and assaults with deadly weapons. A recently enacted state law, Assembly Bill 1291, forces parents and guardians of Los Angeles Unified students convicted of gang-related crimes to attend parenting classes.

In 2008-2009 the LAUSD was faced with a $460 million budget shortfall. In April of this year, teachers agreed to shorten the school year by five days and take an unpaid Friday off, to save $140 million. My suspicions are that there is little money for professional development.

In 2007-2008 The LAUSD spent about $10,000 per pupil while California spent around $9500 per pupil, 23rd in the country. On average in 2008, the LAUSD spent $63,000 on teacher salaries, but sunshine is expensive in California, much higher than any other state, bringing the average teacher salary to about $35,000 per year when adjusted for the cost of living. Let’s also mention that California ranked last among states on the ratio of total school staff to students in 2005-06, according to the NCES. California also ranked 51st—dead last—on the number of guidance counselors and librarians employed by school districts. Obviously the LAUSD has monumental problems, but the L.A. Times is going to use one measurement that looks only at English and math scores as a basis to determine that only teachers are responsible, and are effective or ineffective? They don’t mention teacher attrition. How closely are administrators mentoring their teachers? Surely, there must be a better way to determine the worth of a teacher.

By Susan Ridgeway, Streetsboro Education Association

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