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La.'s Teacher-Evaluation Plans Under New Pressure

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A recently approved constitutional amendment in Louisiana has put new pressure on efforts to revise the state's contentious teacher-evaluation program.

The new procedural roadblock marks the latest twist in a politically charged saga that began in 1988, when the legislature passed a bill that offered teachers a hefty raise in return for agreeing to be subject to periodic evaluation and recertification.

The initial version of the evaluation program was strongly opposed by the state's powerful teachers' unions, however, and the legislature decided in 1991 to suspend it, pending development of a new system.

The suspended program requires state evaluation of both beginning and veteran teachers and links the results to teacher certification. (See Education Week, March 11, 1992.)

The suspension expires in September 1994, just as the revised evaluation plan is set to be implemented across the state's schools.

The problem is that lawmakers need to act by then to terminate the 1988 mandate, so that the revised program can go forward. But the new constitutional amendment limits legislative sessions in even-numbered years, such as the upcoming one, to fiscal matters.

Unless legislation to change the suspended law is passed in a special session called by Gov. Edwin W. Edwards, the original program would have to be revived--an outcome that Fred Skelton, the president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, has termed "a recipe for disaster.''

But John A. Bertrand, the president of the state board of elementary and secondary education, said too much work has already gone into revising the evaluation program for legislators to allow the original version to be revived. After the suspension, the legislature approved funds for two years of field-testing and pilot programs.

"We feel nearly certain that there will be one or two sessions called and that the Governor will cover teacher evaluation in a special session,'' Mr. Bertrand said.

Veteran Teachers at Issue

Concern over reviving the suspended program arose after Mari Ann Fowler, the assistant state superintendent of education for research and development, announced that next year's budget would include funds for state evaluation of veteran teachers, as required by the suspended law.

Proposals to revise the program would limit the state evaluation to beginning teachers, leaving local districts in charge of evaluating veteran teachers.

"We included state evaluation of veteran teachers because we're uncertain about what legislation will be in effect next year,'' Ms. Fowler explained, while adding, "We're certainly not recommending this.''

Mr. Edwards's education adviser said that the Governor plans to call a special session as early as February to deal with crime and that the teacher-evaluation program could be brought up then.

That means, however, that the state board will have to work faster than anticipated to hand over its recommendations to the legislature. Education department officials are scheduled next month to present their recommendations to the board for approval, after which the board will meet with the legislature's education committees.

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