Statement: “Unfortunately, teachers in San Diego Unified School District are only evaluated every five years – and even then parents do not have easy access to the results,” 52nd District congressional candidate Carl DeMaio writes on his website.

Determination: Misleading

Analysis: Congressional candidate Carl DeMaio has long branded himself a reformer. Now he’s taking on the education system.

“I asked the school district for their policy on teacher performance evaluations and I thought, well, maybe they evaluate once a year, maybe once a quarter. No, once every five years,” DeMaio told radio host Mark Larson earlier this month.

The education plan he released Tuesday references funding incentives for school districts to review teachers annually and post their ratings online.  That document also includes the claim that district teachers are only evaluated every five years and that the results aren’t posted online.

The latter is true. San Diego Unified considers teacher evaluations private and exempt from public review under state law. DeMaio’s reform aims to change that.

But DeMaio’s claim that district teachers only get evaluated every five years isn’t accurate. At least a third of teachers are evaluated more regularly than that, and the number could be much higher.

Evaluation schedules depend primarily on how long a teacher has worked in the district. New teachers get evaluated once a year during their first two years working at San Diego Unified, per union contract rules.

After that, teachers automatically move to an every-other-year evaluation schedule.

Only after spending a decade in the district are teachers eligible for an evaluation every five years. Teachers have to meet additional metrics to qualify for this evaluation schedule. Beyond their experience, they must have received an effective rating on their last evaluation, be considered highly qualified under the federal No Child Left Behind Act specifications and be permanent employees. No one is automatically enrolled in the five-year evaluation program.

School principals decide whether an individual teacher can sign on and they keep the records on who’s enlisted in it, said Tim Asfazadour, the district’s chief human relations officer.

He said the district’s current record-keeping doesn’t allow it to gauge how many teachers are reviewed every five years.

But he did say that about a third of San Diego Unified’s roughly 6,400 teachers have less than a decade of experience in the district or don’t meet other qualifications so they aren’t eligible for the program.

The teachers’ union couldn’t shed more light on the percentage of eligible teachers who actually get evaluated every five years.

Union President Lindsay Burningham could only say she’s aware of multiple instances and even schools where administrators decided against allowing teachers to go that long between evaluations.

Burningham, an 11-year teacher, said that she’s always been evaluated at least every other year in her time at the district too.

“Every case is different depending on the individual situations,” she said.

We shared the raw eligibility numbers with DeMaio’s campaign.

His spokesman initially argued the five-year evaluations were the standard policy.

“New hires may be less than that, but the standard policy – which Carl is referring to – is once every five years,” spokesman Dave McCulloch wrote in an email.

That response in itself is deceiving. A standard policy is one that’s automatically applied. In this case, teachers need to meet multiple metrics to qualify for an evaluation every five years – and even then, a principal could opt not to let a teacher into the five-year program.

“There is no guarantee that they will be placed on the five-year cycle or remain on the five-year cycle if their performance declines,” Asfazadour said.

We dub a statement misleading when it takes an element of truth and badly distorts or exaggerates it, giving a deceptive impression.

That ruling applies here because DeMaio’s statements on his website and to a radio host implied all San Diego Unified teachers are evaluated only every five years. At least a third of teachers aren’t, and getting on a five-year assessment schedule isn’t automatic for the rest of them.

Regardless, the DeMaio campaign stood by its statement.

“No amount of hair-splitting can refute how ridiculous the school district’s teacher evaluation policies are, and Carl DeMaio is committed to reforming these evaluation practices so parents get reliable information on teacher quality,” McCulloch said.

Before we leave this fact check, it’s worth making one more point. DeMaio pointed to San Diego Unified’s evaluation policy, so that’s what we checked. But the protocol doesn’t  always match reality, as my colleague Mario Koran found out recently:

This past summer, four teachers at Lincoln High told VOSD that although they were due for a classroom visit, a principal never came. Instead, they said they received a “satisfactory” review. All they had to do was sign on the line.

So actual teacher evaluations could be more lax than the policy calls for.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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