White visits Acadiana educators for input on pre-school, career education, Common Core _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRAD BOWIE -- Louisiana State Superintendent of Education John White speaks in the cafeteria of the W.D. & Mary Baker Smith Career Center on Oct. 6, 2014. White was visiting schools around Lafayette Parish as part of his Louisiana Believes tour.

State Superintendent of Education John White said Wednesday he is optimistic Louisiana’s top school board next week will approve key changes in how public school teachers are evaluated, including less reliance on student test scores.

The recommendations stem from a panel of educators and others — called the Act 240 subcommittee — that has studied the issue for months.

The new rules, with little fanfare, could change the years-long debate on whether and how to link the growth of student test scores to annual teacher job reviews, which was pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal in 2010.

New authority for principals, including whether teachers get passing marks in job performance, is a prime part of the proposed overhaul. “We are empowering the principal to arrive at a judgment rather than relying on a computer in Baton Rouge,” White told reporters.

The change will be considered by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on March 5-6.

“My conversations with BESE members have been very positive about this,” he said.

Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, and Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, both members of the subcommittee, said Wednesday the recommendations include some positives but that major questions remain on how teachers will be reviewed.

“It all depends on the details,” Monaghan said.

Linking student test scores to teacher reviews was touted as a way to improve student achievement, and a bill to do just that won approval in the Legislature in 2010.

Under the previous system, teacher reviews were based on traditional classroom observations by principals, and 98 percent or so were rated as satisfactory.

Under the revamped reviews, about 30 percent of teachers had half their reviews linked to the growth of student achievement. Insiders called that the Value Added Model, or VAM.

The other half of the annual job check stemmed from traditional classroom observations.

Those who failed either half were rated as ineffective, and on a path that could lead to dismissal.

Now the subcommittee and White say teacher reviews should include multiple measures, not just how students fare on key exams.

Aside from classroom observations for half the review, principals can use gains in student achievement, learning targets agreed to at the start of the school year or other measures.

White said the new guidelines represent a “philosophical difference” from the model approved by BESE in 2011 which has sparked heated arguments for years. “But that is natural as these things evolve,” he said.

“If there is a downside under the previous system it is that principals could just throw up their hands to say ‘I don’t know how the computer arrived at the score, but I don’t have any responsibility for the evaluation,’ ” White said.

BESE will also consider another change that would end the rule that a teacher who fails to measure up on either half of the review has to be rated as ineffective.

Instead, the principal would have the final say.

Teacher unions have long argued that linking teacher reviews to the growth of student achievement was flawed, and excluded crucial factors that shape test scores.

“Anything that moves away from the machine for us is a positive,” Monaghan said, a reference to VAM.

Exactly what measures will be used on the objective part of the revamped evaluations remains a concern, Monaghan and Meaux said.

One option is learning goals that teachers and principals are supposed to agree on at the start of the school year — Student Learning Targets, or SLTs.

Meaux said teachers in some school districts say those targets are done only by principals, and that there is no collaboration.

“And they are geared toward either helping the school or helping the district more so than helping the classroom teacher,” she said.

Meaux and Monaghan praised another recommendation that would extend for one school year — adding 2015-16 — the moratorium on the requirement that student achievement data be linked to the reviews for about 17,000 math, English and other teachers.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.