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Teacher-Evaluation Program Advances in La.

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The Louisiana legislature gave final approval last week to a new teacher-evaluation program, which Gov. Edwin W. Edwards is expected to sign into law sometime this week.

The program, which was pushed through the legislature during a special session called by Mr. Edwards earlier this month, may represent the end of a long and bitter controversy.

It is to replace an evaluation scheme adopted in 1988 under Gov. Buddy Roemer. Mr. Roemer offered teachers a hefty three-year pay raise in an effort to balance the plan's requirement that all teachers be subject to periodic evaluation and recertification by state officials.

But the state teachers' unions vehemently opposed the program, and in 1991 the legislature suspended it.

Because the suspension runs out in September, lawmakers have been under pressure to pass the new plan, which is set to start in the fall. (See Education Week, Dec. 15, 1993.)

The unions had a hand in developing the new plan and threw their support behind it. The key changes would give local districts, rather than the state education agency, the responsibility for evaluating currently licensed teachers, and drop a requirement that teachers be periodically recertified.

Sen. Cecil Picard, the chairman of the Senate education committee, said: "It's not perfect, but it's better than nothing, and it's so much better than what we had before.''

The suspended program requires state evaluation of both beginning and veteran teachers, abolishing lifetime certification in favor of a renewable five-year certificate.

Setting Limits

Louisiana has long suffered from a teacher shortage, and observers say that poor teachers have escaped dismissal as a result of loose local evaluation processes.

But critics of the Roemer plan said it was punitive, unworkable, and focused too heavily on getting rid of poor teachers instead of trying to improve their skills.

Under the revised plan, state evaluation would be limited to beginning teachers, although both beginning and veteran teachers would be required to follow individualized professional-development plans.

But Mr. Edwards added provisions to help insure that poor teachers do not stay in the system.

"Before you'd have people getting transferred year after year,'' said Fred F. Skelton, the president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers. "Now districts can't hide this person ... they've got to make an employment decision.''

The bill would preserve lifetime certification for veteran teachers, but require that the local school board evaluate them at least every three years and move to fire an inadequate teacher who does not improve after two years of "intensive assistance.'' Districts that did not comply could have their state education funds frozen.

Under the new plan, every beginning teacher--including those who are certified in states other than Louisiana or have taught in private schools--would be evaluated each year by the teacher's principal, an experienced teacher, and an outside evaluator.

Teachers would receive full certification after three years, and be subject to the local evaluation process.

But if a new teacher were found wanting in his first two evaluations, he would have to leave the classroom for two years. If the teacher failed to complete this process in his second try, he could never teach in the state.

School districts would be required to ask for evaluation results in their hiring process.

Criteria for evaluating new teachers are being developed by a panel of assessment experts who are to report next month to the state board of education.

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