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Today I’m sharing my blog with Tyler Cramer, a local attorney who is a big advocate of tying teacher and principal evaluation to student test scores.

If you’ve been following school news in California, you know this is the hot topic right now. The feds are arguing that unless California scraps a law that bars the state from using test scores to judge teachers, it can’t get any of the added stimulus money states are competing for.

The question is whether California will change its laws to suit the feds — and whether it should. Cramer is sharing Schooled with me today to argue about why they should, and why he believes the state’s arguments that the law doesn’t really block schools from evaluating teachers through student performance are bogus.

These are his opinions, not mine, so if you agree, disagree or want to raise a point, please e-mail him at tcramer@cramerlaw.net. He’ll be posting responses and updates later in the day.

For those who may not know, the primary barrier (or “firewall”) between using student test data to evaluate teacher effectiveness is found in the legislation which enacted the California Longitudinal Teacher Integrated Data Education System (CALTIDES).The law now provides, “Data in the [CALTIDES] system shall not be used, either solely or in conjunction with data from the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System [CALPADS], for purposes of pay, promotion, sanction, or personnel evaluation of an individual teacher or groups of teachers, or of any other employment decisions related to individual teachers.”

As an initial member of the CALPADS Advisory Board, I expressed serious concerns about and opposed the firewall when CALTIDES was being considered by the Legislature in 2006. Recently, however, the State Superintendent of Instruction, the State Board of Education President and California’s Secretary of Education have attempted to persuade the US Department of Education that the firewall does not prevent local districts from evaluating or compensating teachers based on student performance. Instead, they say the firewall only prevents the State from doing so and they point to Long Beach which does use student performance in its teacher evaluations.

This rebuttal has several problems which I’ve yet to hear anyone address.

First, why would the Legislature enact a restriction that only affects the State when the State itself employs very few if any classroom teachers?

Second, and more subtle, there are over 1,000 local school districts in California, many of which do not have large teacher or student populations. As anyone familiar with longitudinal data systems will tell you, reaching valid and reliable measurements of teacher-student effects, especially with respect to small teacher/student groupings, is currently an evolving and often controversial science. (This past week alone the 2009 STATS-DC Conference of the US Dept of Education’s Institute for Education Science devoted many of its proceedings to longitudinal data system issues.)  Many statistical issues, however, can be mitigated by comparing results from a given small sample against similarly constructed findings from a much larger, albeit similarly situated population.

It should be noted Long Beach could not have used CALPADS or CALTIDES data in its teacher/student performance evaluation system because, among other things, CALPADS is just starting in this upcoming school year. Even if CALPADS data had been available, Long Beach is one of the State’s largest school districts and may have sufficiently large similarly-situated teacher/student subgroups that it would not need or want to compare its results with statewide results.

Other districts, and certainly smaller ones, will both want and need to compare their findings against similarly-situated teacher/student populations statewide. Firewall defenders no doubt will counter that even if the firewall only applies to the State, CALPADS and CALTIDES were created by and maintained by the State and the State controls access to the data. Therefore, the firewall prohibits a local district from using any instrumentality of the State, including access to State-owned tools (i.e. CALPADS and CALTIDES), to compare its findings of teacher/student effects against those realized by similarly-situated teacher/student student sub groupings elsewhere in the State.

I believe Governor Schwarzenegger and US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have correctly identified the problem.  But it’s questionable whether the teacher-union backed majority in the Legislature will do anything about it.

Send Tyler Cramer your comments, questions and counterarguments at tcramer@cramerlaw.net. Or you can contact me at emily.alpert@voiceofsandiego.org.

— TYLER CRAMER and EMILY ALPERT

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