Stephanie Grace: Where has this Bobby Jindal been? _lowres

Associated Press file photo by CLIFF OWEN -- La. Gov. Bobby Jindal

Four years after the state overhauled the way teachers are evaluated, critics hope to reopen the debate and trim the weight given to student test scores.

Some of the same officials who vehemently opposed the law pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal say they hope that an influential panel studying the issue will recommend major changes to the 2015 Legislature, which convenes in April.

The rule that requires teachers in math, science and some other subjects to have 50 percent of their job reviews linked to student test scores is a key part of the debate, as it was in 2010.

The other half is based on classroom observations by principals, which used to be the sole review method used.

Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, said state lawmakers should trim the influence given to test scores in rating teachers.

“We would like to see that percentage drop down to be in alignment with other states, in the range of 10 percent, 15 percent or 20 percent,” Richard said.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, who handled the bill when it won state Senate approval, disagrees.

“We always had a qualitative approach to teacher evaluations in the past, and it didn’t work,” Appel said, noting that 98 percent or more of teachers were typically rated as satisfactory under the previous system.

“We have gone to a combination of qualitative/quantitative approach, and I think it is a very valid approach,” he said.

The issue is under review by the influential Accountability Commission, which is acting as a committee that temporarily includes additional teachers and lawmakers.

The scrutiny of the law stems from legislation pushed earlier this year by Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, sponsor of the 2010 measure that changed teacher evaluations. Hoffmann has long said he would push for modifications if the new evaluations posed problems.

During the panel’s last meeting Nov. 17, Hoffmann said the weight given to test scores is one of several areas that need study.

In addition, the requirement that connects job reviews with test scores is on hold for two years, until the 2015-16 school year.

That halt was ordered because of Louisiana’s move to Common Core.

However, the moratorium has sparked speculation that it will pave the way for another delay or major changes in the reviews, especially because Jindal leaves office in January 2016.

Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said her group, which opposed the plan initially, favors trimming the weight given to test scores in job reviews. “To what percentage, I don’t know,” said Meaux, a member of the Accountability Commission.

Meaux also wants the panel to recommend an end to the rule that says if a teacher is rated as ineffective in either students’ academic growth or observations by principals, the teacher’s overall rating has to be ineffective. “I sense there is a feeling (on the commission) that probably needs to be done away with,” she said.

A total of 92 percent of teachers were rated as proficient or better for the 2013-14 school year, up from 88 percent when the more rigorous reviews were in place. Just 2 percent were classified as ineffective, down from 4 percent in 2012-13.

Brigitte Nieland, who tracks public school issues for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, said tweaks are the only thing that may be needed for the teacher reviews. “The evaluation system has not proved draconian in any way,” she said.

Nieland, a member of the commission, said the current 50-50 split on teacher review methods makes sense.

“I think there is nothing more important on a teacher evaluation than the impact they have on student growth,” Nieland said. “So I think 50-50 is more than fair.”

Others said the chief issue is confusion on how the job evaluations are supposed to work.

“There is a lot of misinformation,” said Judy Vail, accountability coordinator for the Calcasieu Parish school system and a member of the commission.

“I don’t see it as a problem if teachers understood how it works,” she said. “But there has to be more talk.”

Stephanie Desselle, another commission member, said local implementation of the reviews seems to vary from district to district, with officials of the Ascension Parish and other school systems praising the value of the evaluations.

“It tells me there needs to be a great deal more training for teachers, principals and administrators,” Desselle said.

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