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LA Teachers Sue To Block Evaluations Abolishing Tenure

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Claiming that lifetime certification is a constitutionally guaranteed property right, Louisiana teachers' unions have filed suit to prevent the state from implementing teacher evaluations that would abolish the open-ended protection.

"It's likely to be a lengthy, drawn-out situation," predicted Jeff Simon, director of communications for the Louisiana Education Association.

In separate lawsuits filed in state district court in Baton Rouge late last month, both the LAE and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers contend that the new teacher-evaluation process is unconstitutional in that it deprives certified teachers of rights already accorded them.

State education officials say, however, that they have the authority as agents of the state board of elementary and secondary education to revoke or withhold certification.

"We're on solid ground," said Barbara A. Dunbar, assistant superintendent of research and development for the department.

Last week, the LFT filed a second suit, seeking an injunction to halt the evaluation process on the grounds that the state had violated its own guidelines.

Regulations required teachers to be notified by May 15 if they were to be evaluated this year. But teachers are still being notified, according to Frederick Skelton, president of the LFT.

Moreover, Mr. Skelton said, the state has yet to apprise teachers of passing scores or the level needed to achieve a superior rating, which could result in a salary increase of from 10 percent to 20 percent.

"If teachers are going to put their careers on the line," he argued, "then they ought to know going in what score they're going to need to pass the evaluation."

According to Ms. Dunbar, the cut-off scores will be reported to the state board by the end of the month.

The teacher evaluations were part of the 1988 Children First Act championed by Gov. Buddy Roemer, who promised three years of salary increases in an effort to gain the support of the legislature and the teachers' unions.

In return for the pay hikes, Mr. Roemer got lukewarm initial sup port on evaluations from the LFT But the LEA consistently opposed the idea.

Evaluations are scheduled to be gin in October, during the third and final year of the wage hikes. Plans call for 20 percent of the state's 46,000 teachers to be evaluated this year.

Under the new policy, teachers will be evaluated every five years. If a veteran teacher's performance is deemed unsatisfactory, he or she will be re-evaluated the following year and placed on a professional-growth course involving remediation.

If the teacher shows improvement, Ms. Dunbar noted, "it's possi ble that the teacher could have up to two years."

Teachers will be evaluated by a three-person team made up of the building principal, a specially trained master teacher, and a representative of the state department. Each will observe the teacher's performance separately within a seven-day period. The teacher has the right to select the classes he or she wants observed.

Assessors, who may not confer, will grade the teacher on 91 indicators ranging from whether the teacher begins class promptly to whether students are asked questions requiring critical thinking. A final score will be drawn from a composite of the three observers. The process will take place twice during an academic year.

The initial lawsuits do not ask the court to set aside the evaluations for beginning teachers, who will go through a two-year internship program before they can be certified.

Mr. Skelton said the LFT. was focusing exclusively on veteran teachers.
"We're not trying to scuttle the program," he maintained.

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