By Alex Dobuzinskis
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Teachers in Los Angeles have agreed to have test scores factored into performance evaluations in the nation's second-largest school district, their union said on Saturday in a concession to a growing national movement to revamp teacher appraisals.
United Teachers Los Angeles said in a statement that 66 percent of the nearly 17,000 members who cast ballots had voted in favor of the new agreement on evaluations. The union has more than 30,000 members in a district second in size only to New York.
The question of how best to evaluate teachers - and how districts can remove failing ones - has sparked clashes across the country between school officials and teachers' unions. One such disagreement was behind last year's seven-day teacher strike in Chicago.
A tentative agreement had been reached late last year between the Los Angeles Unified School District and the teachers' union over evaluations, after Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant ruled that test scores had to be a part of teacher evaluations.
The judge's ruling came in a lawsuit filed against the schools superintendent that accused the district of violating a California law that requires measures of student progress to be included in student evaluations.
The agreement between the district and the union called for teachers to be evaluated based on a number of factors, including test scores, attendance and graduation rates, Los Angeles Unified said in a statement last year.
But the union said on Saturday the deal approved by its membership excludes certain types of scores known as "value-added modeling" that it considered unfair, while it includes other test scores.
The "value-added" system is seen by some education reform leaders as a useful tool because it is supposed to isolate an instructor's teaching ability from other factors, such as students' socioeconomic status, according to a congressional report released last year.
But the union said it found the system to be unreliable.
Los Angeles Unified had originally wanted 30 percent of a teacher's evaluation to be based solely on test scores as reflected in the "value-added" rating, the union said. But under the agreement, those results cannot be used in a teacher's final evaluation, the statement said.
Superintendent John Deasy told the Los Angeles Times he planned to release details next week on how testing data would be factored into teacher evaluations, and he welcomed the decision by teachers to ratify the agreement.
"It's a sign that members really want us to begin moving forward with a more improved way around evaluations," he told the paper.
The Obama administration has pushed states to give heavy weight to quantitative measures such as test scores in designing teacher evaluations. More than a dozen states have moved in that direction, with some making it impossible for a teacher to earn a good review with a low score on so-called value-added metrics.
Florida, Louisiana, Colorado, Michigan and Ohio have been among the states that are particularly aggressive in tying teacher ratings to test scores.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Beech)