Lawsuit Targets Teacher Evaluations That Ignore Student Achievement

David Jones/PA Wire URN:21969286/AP
File Photo: David Jones/PA Wire URN:21969286/AP

Students Matter, the same group that successfully won its case in Vergara v. California, which ruled certain teacher tenure protections were unconstitutional, is attempting to make certain that teacher evaluations must include test scores of their students.

On Thursday, Students Matter, founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch, filed a lawsuit in Contra Costa County, Doe v. Antioch, charging 13 school districts with violating state law by eschewing the use of test scores to evaluate teachers. The districts named in the lawsuit include Antioch Unified, Chaffey Joint Union, Chino Valley Unified, El Monte City, Fairfield-Suisun Unified, Fremont Union, Inglewood Unified, Ontario-Montclair, Pittsburg Unified, Saddleback Valley Unified, San Ramon Valley Unified, Upland Unified and Victor Elementary, according to the Los Angeles Times. Those districts represent roughly 250,000 students, reports Southern California Public Radio.

The lawsuit claims that collective bargaining agreements with teachers unions prevented the districts from obeying the 1971 Stull Act, which required student achievement to be included in teacher evaluations. Teachers got more leeway in 1999 after Gov. Gray Davis approved amending the law; it now permitted evaluation of teachers to be based on state test scores as they “reasonably related” to a teacher’s classroom performance.

Bill Lucia, president of Edvoice, which backed the Stull Act, told the Times, “All the evidence points to the fact that a majority are not” obeying the 1971 law.

The battle over teacher evaluations has heated up in recent years; in 2012, an L.A. Superior Court judge ruled that student test scores had to be part of teacher evaluations, but left the area nebulous by agreeing the union and school district could negotiate the terms.

Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers, told the Times that the school districts in non-compliance with the Stull Act had done nothing wrong, pontificating, 
“These are districts where management and teachers have developed an evaluation system that works for them. The Stull Act doesn’t prescribe in detail how an evaluation system should happen. There is some leeway.”

But attorney Joshua S. Lipshutz, representing Students Matter, responded, “School districts are not going to get away with bargaining away their ability to use test scores to evaluate teachers. That’s a direct violation of state law.” 
He pointed out that research showed 30% to 40% of teachers’ evaluations should be based on test scores.

Pechalt vehemently disagreed, saying, “There’s growing evidence, a ton of research, that shows the kind of evaluation system they would like to see happen is a disaster for public education.” He added, “It distorts what happens in the classroom for students and educators.”