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Eight years after Louisiana toughened the way public school teachers are evaluated, the impact of the highly-touted overhaul remains a mystery.

The rules have been delayed, rolled back and debated in the Legislature almost yearly.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, without success, tried twice to water down the test standards after they were reduced the first time.

The sponsor of the 2010 law has all but washed his hands of the measure.

"My opinion is it just doesn't do what we hoped it would do," said state Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe and a former educator himself. "I just don't think it is a fair way to evaluate teachers."

After a four-year timeout the controversial teacher reviews are being done for the 2017-18 school year, just the second time since the law was enacted.

Those results are set to be announced next month.

State Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie and a member of the Senate Education Committee, said the state is overdue to regularly see how teachers fare using student test scores.

"How else does an administrator know if a teacher is doing well or not?" Appel asked.

The 2010 measure, which was pushed by former Gov. Bobby Jindal, replaced an earlier system in which nearly every public school teacher in Louisiana, after a cursory check, was routinely rated as satisfactory.

Under the change, about 12,500 of the state's roughly 45,000 teachers would be rated in part by using student test scores to measure teacher effectiveness. Those covered include teachers of English/language arts, social studies, algebra, geometry and English 1 and 2.

They are rated in four categories – highly effective, effective/proficient, effective/emerging and ineffective.

The aim is to measure a teacher's impact on student learning by comparing previous student performance with expected gains.

The measuring stick is called the value added model, or VAM.

Backers said that, by holding teachers to a higher standard, the state could help improve its longtime struggle with low achievement in public schools.

However, the only time the law was used as passed was for the 2012-13 school year.

In that review, 88 percent of teachers scored in the top two categories while 12 percent were deemed by the state to need "significant improvements."

Using student test scores, nearly half the teachers covered fell into the two lowest categories that year.

But the rules were sidelined for the next four school years during the move to tougher academic standards.

State officials said it was unfair to link test scores to career-defining teacher job reviews during the transition.

Teacher ratings quickly shot up after educators won new latitude to rate teachers, and the requirement that student test scores be factored in was dropped.

In the next four schools years teachers rated in the top two categories totaled 92 percent, 94 percent, 92 percent and 93 percent of the ranks.

Meanwhile, lawmakers have backtracked from the initial plan amid recurring controversy.

Under the original law, 50 percent of the review was linked to student test scores.

The other half stemmed from traditional observations by principals and others.

Other teachers were rated largely on whether they met goals – called student learning targets – agreed to by teachers and principals at the start of the school year.

In 2016 groups that favored major changes in public school struck a deal with longtime critics of the revamped evaluation rules, including teacher unions and the governor.

Under the revised rules, test scores account for 35 percent of the evaluation, observations 50 percent and student learning targets 15 percent.

In 2017 and 2018 the governor, along with teacher unions he is aligned with, tried to make the use of test scores discretionary, or trim their weight from 35 percent to 15 percent.

Both efforts were killed in the Legislature.

Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators and a longtime critic of the revamped evaluations, said the upcoming release of teachers scores is riddled with questions.

Meaux said it is unclear how the previous evaluations will factor into this year's results, and whether teachers with multiple years of sub-par results will face a loss of certification.

Doing so, she said, could spark resistance in school districts that face teacher shortages.

"So I can foresee that, even if the state takes away their certificate, a lot of school districts will say we don't have any choice, we have to have teachers in the classroom," she said.

Debra Schum, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Principals, said this year's results should serve as sort of a trial run.

"I just think there are a lot of questions about the validity of VAM across the broad spectrum of K-12," Schum said.

But Brigitte Nieland, who follows public school issues for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, disputes calls by Meaux and others to trim the role of student test scores in teacher reviews.

"I think the people who criticize it the most and try to lower the percentage, those are the people who are not going to be satisfied with any evaluation method," Nieland said.


Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.