Four years after Louisiana authorized sweeping changes in public school teachers’ job evaluations, how those reviews are being done remains in flux.

Local school districts are taking radically different approaches to the annual checks, raising questions about any purported gains.

An influential state panel is reviewing a key part of the new system, and the state’s top school board is set to initiate a second review.

And the chief feature of the new evaluations — linking teacher ratings to the growth of student achievement — is on hold until 2016, and maybe longer.

“This is not one statewide program,” state Superintendent of Education John White said. “This is a tool that is being used by 1,400 schools in 1,400 different ways.”

State Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, chief sponsor of the 2010 law that overhauled teacher checks, said the rollout of the new rules has been more bumpy than he expected.

“We are seeing a lot of inconsistencies in the numbers,” he said of the ratings. “To me, it just doesn’t make sense.”

The issues are bubbling up in the wake of last week’s announcement that 43 percent of teachers statewide landed the state’s top rating, compared with 32 percent last year.

In all, 92 percent of teachers were rated as proficient or better, up from 88 percent last year.

Just 2 percent were classified as “ineffective,” down from 4 percent last year.

But the latest tally has reopened controversy on the volatile topic for two reasons:

  • Under a two-year time-out, local school districts are not required to use the growth of student achievement in rating teachers, which removes the most rigorous component in the evaluation.
  • Principals are setting the bar at vastly different levels on what constitutes a top-ranked teacher and doing so in a way that shows teacher gains far outpacing how students fare in the classroom.

Instead of linking half of each teacher’s review to the growth of his or her students’ achievement, principals generally relied on whether teachers met student learning targets — academic goals that teachers and principals agree on at the start of the school year.

The results show that 62 percent of teachers won the top label in meeting those goals, up from 58 percent last year.

“Some have high expectations,” White said of local school district officials. “Some are not taking it as seriously.”

The Ascension Parish school system, which is rated fourth in the state, reported that only 23 percent of its teachers got the top mark, or “highly effective.”

But 51 percent of teachers in the East Baton Rouge Parish school district received the top label in a school system ranked 43rd statewide.

Patrice Pujol, superintendent of public schools in Ascension Parish, said teachers there have bought into the rigorous grading system, knowing that student achievement gains are the top priority.

EBR school officials did not return calls for comment.

“There is a clear connection between schools and school districts making significant academic gains and the practice of setting a high bar for teacher excellence in classroom observation,” according to the state’s annual report on the issue.

Meanwhile, a subcommittee of the influential Accountability Commission — which includes teachers, administrators and parents — already is doing a review of the most controversial part of the 2010 law, which was pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Under the law, half of a teacher’s job evaluation is linked to the growth of student achievement — called the value added model — and half is linked to traditional classroom observations by principals.

Hoffmann, who has long said he is willing to study possible flaws in the law, said he thinks the panel will recommend changes.

“I think it has been poorly received by teachers,” he said. “If it is going to work, we need some buy-in.”

Under current rules, teachers who are rated as “ineffective” either in how their students fared or in classroom observations have to be rated that way overall.

Hoffmann said he thinks one recommended change will be to give principals more authority in making the final call.

Under orders from the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, linking teacher reviews to the growth of student achievement is on hold until 2016.

Backers said the delay was needed during the move to the Common Core standards.

What the annual job reviews will look like then is unclear.

“I don’t see (the value added model) coming back,” said Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, which opposed the 2010 law.

BESE in December is supposed to spell out plans for another review of the idea of linking teachers’ job status to students’ gains.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.