Facing a Tuesday deadline to come up with a deal, Los Angeles Unified and its teachers union announced Friday that they'd hammered out a tentative agreement to begin using student test data in evaluating the district's educators.
It took more than five months and the intervention of a mediator to craft an evaluation that factors in standardized test scores, as well as Academic Growth Over Time, a controversial mathematical formula used to measure student progress.
The main element of the evaluation will be "robust classroom observation," officials said, with district assessments, attendance rates, class grades and eight other factors used to help gauge success and identify areas for improvement.
The district will determine how much weight will be given to each element, although both sides agreed that test data will account for less than half of the evaluation.
Superintendent John Deasy called the agreement, reached late Thursday after "dozens and dozens" of negotiating sessions, "a very appropriate balance of individual and collective measures."
"This is a historic agreement - the first of its kind," he said. "This will help improve the practices of teaching and hold us accountable in meeting the standards of the teaching profession."
The deal must still be approved by the school board and ratified by United Teachers Los Angeles.
UTLA President Warren Fletcher said the union's 40,000 members will vote on the seven-page deal in early January.
He acknowledged that some members may have "principled differences" with the inclusion of student test data, but he said the ultimate goal is to provide the best education possible for LAUSD students.
"We wanted an evaluation that makes sense for the classroom and will help teachers improve, and this agreement hits a good spot on that," he said. "It uses test data in a smart way to get teachers useful information to improve instruction."
The inclusion of AGT was a major sticking point in the negotiations.
Deasy had pushed hard for teachers to be rated using the academic progress of students in their classroom. Union leaders said that individual AGT was too volatile, and that schoolwide averages would be more fair.
Both sides compromised in the end.
The pact says individual AGT scores can be used to "give perspective" in reviewing a teacher's past performance. School-level AGT, along with standardized test scores from individual classrooms, can be included in the final review.
Because of the increased complexity of the evaluations, the two sides agreed to extend the time between reviews for teachers with more than 10 years of experience. Veteran teachers who now are evaluated every two years may not be reviewed for three to five years.
The agreement was reached just days ahead of Tuesday's deadline to present a new evaluation system to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant, who is presiding over a lawsuit filed last year by seven anonymous LAUSD families.
Sponsored by EdVoice, a Sacramento-based education reform group, the suit claimed LAUSD was violating the Stull Act, which mandates that test scores be used to appraise teachers.
EdVoice CEO Bill Lucia said he was cautiously optimistic that Chalfant will determine that the new pact complies with the 1999 state law.
"Following the law is the right thing for kids, and the outcome is credible, useful, meaningful feedback," he said.
Lucia expressed disappointment that the two sides were unable to come up with a deal in time to apply for $40 million in federal money. The Race to the Top grant required a data-based evaluation system, as well as the union's endorsement, which it failed to give in time for the recent deadline.
Ana Nyamekye, who heads the Los Angeles chapter of Educators 4 Excellence, said the deal is an important step forward although there are concerns about the timing of the evaluations and how teachers will be rated.
"We need to be able to identify those who are excelling and those who need intensive support," she said.
The reform group also wants to ensure there is a fair system for teachers at the district's various campuses - traditional schools, small learning communities, charters and magnets.
"We have questions about how choice and flexibility will be accompanied by accountability and uniformly high expectations," Nyamekye said.
School board member Steve Zimmer, a former teacher and a vocal opponent of using high-stakes test scores in teacher evaluations, said he will be lobbying school board and union members to support the deal.
"We had to do everything we could to negotiate an agreement that could be embraced by the rank-and-file, and I think this holds the best possible chance for this to happen," he said.
"Teaching is a team sport, and this agreement allows teachers to learn and collaborate with their colleagues instead of competing against their colleagues," he said. "But it all comes down to student achievement. That's at the front and center of this deal."