Tackling a volatile topic, a state panel Thursday began considering ways to revamp the way Louisiana evaluates its public school teachers.

State Rep. Frank Hoffmann, a West Monroe Republican and sponsor of the 2010 law that overhauled the annual reviews, noted that he vowed four years ago to try to change the process again if problems surfaced.

“I’m not wanting to do away with it,” Hoffmann said. “I want to get it right.”

Hoffmann made his comments to the Accountability Commission, an influential, 17-member panel that includes teachers and other educators, school group leaders and parents.

The group, which advises the state’s top school board, is required by a law passed earlier this year to review the state’s teacher evaluation law and to make recommendations to the Legislature, possibly in November.

“We are now at a good point to say what’s working and what’s not,” said Jessica Baghian, an assistant superintendent of education who led the discussion.

Under the law, public school teachers are rated annually, with half the rating based on the growth of student achievement and half on classroom observations by principals.

Teachers are then graded on a four-point scale, which ranges from ineffective to highly effective.

“We have to have this discussion,” said Lottie Beebe, who is superintendent of the St. Martin Parish school system and attended the meeting.

“We are losing teachers daily, a mass exodus,” said Beebe, who is also a member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

But Senate Education Committee Chairman Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, noted that before the 2010 overhaul, virtually every teacher in the state was listed as satisfactory.

The rate was 98.5 percent for the 2010-11 school year, according to state Department of Education figures.

One controversial part of the evaluation says that if a teacher is rated ineffective in either the growth of student achievement or classroom observations, his or her final rating has to be ineffective.

Hoffman said one possible change would be to allow school principals to overrule that requirement.

The law is supposed to rate teachers in part on student academic gains during the school year, regardless of where the student started.

Sandra McCalla, principal of Captain Shreve High School in Shreveport and a member of the commission, said she has heard principals express major concerns about how top-flight teachers, such as those who teach Algebra I, will fare on their job evaluations when they have numerous struggling students in the classroom.

Hoffmann, who sponsored legislation this year that launched the review, said he knew of a case where a top-rated school had five fourth-grade teachers rated ineffective, and that he is concerned similar problems are not uncommon.

“There’s something wrong with that,” he said. “That’s why I brought this bill.”

Patrice Pujol, superintendent of the Ascension Parish school system and a member of the commission, said the changes have had a positive impact.

Pujol said the annual reviews have sparked a more thorough check on teacher instructional practices compared with the previous “just check a box” system.

Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said the panel should consider recommending additional measures of teacher effectiveness, not just gains in student achievement and classroom observations.

“There are other things important in the professionalism of a teacher,” Meaux said.

Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said changes are needed to boost confidence among teachers in how their jobs are evaluated.

The review is being done by the commission, six additional teachers, Hoffmann and Appel.

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