For years California teachers unions successfully fought proposals to include standardized test scores in teacher evaluations -- but their winning streak might be coming to an end.
After prodding from federal officials, more than a dozen new proposals to evaluate the state's teachers are circulating. Nearly all of them include student performance on standardized tests as part of the evaluation.
Many have their roots in the Valley. This year for the first time, Clovis Unified School District is using standardized test scores in performance evaluations. Fresno Unified School District is developing new assessment methods that will include standardized test scores as part of the criteria -- a move welcomed by the Fresno Teachers Association.
"Teachers aren't afraid of accountability," FTA President Greg Gadams said. "We just want to be sure that whatever system they develop is fair."
The trend toward using test scores comes after the state's unsuccessful application for federal Race to the Top funding in 2009. The application was denied in part because of the lack of a comprehensive teacher evaluation system.
Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson has been at the forefront of the state's effort to standardize performance evaluations.
Hanson is president of the California Office to Reform Education (CORE), which comprises the seven school districts that teamed to apply for the federal funding.
The group is working to develop an evaluation system and he is involved in a similar statewide effort with the California Department of Education.
Hanson said development of teacher evaluation tools with CORE is still in the early stages.
At Fresno Unified, student scores on districtwide tests are part of the evaluation process, although the scores are not tied to teacher pay.
Hanson didn't offer details about where the district is headed on teacher evaluations.
Clovis Unified isn't tying its look at standardized test scores to teacher pay, either. Instead, district officials are using test scores on districtwide benchmark tests for the first time this year as an "addendum" to classroom observations and other measurements.
"The data is used for discussion between teachers and administrators," said Michelle Steagall, associate superintendent. "This isn't really anything new because teachers have been using this data for years."
The district, which does not have a collective bargaining agreement with its teachers, spent more than a year designing the system.
Test scores also are a hot-button issue at Madera Unified, where scores on district or statewide tests were left out of the evaluation process.
"I think the district would be open to anything," said Jake Bragonier, Madera Unified's spokesman. "But the union has come out strongly against it."
The movement has even made it to the Legislature. One bill sponsored by Assembly Member Felipe Fuentes, D-San Fernando, would require districts to base performance evaluations on observations, lesson plans and growth on standardized tests.
It would be up to each district to decide how much of a factor the standardized test scores would be in a teacher's assessment.
But the proposals aren't being greeted with open arms.
A spokesman for the California Teachers Association said the union still is "philosophically opposed" to using test scores in teacher evaluations. The union opposes the bill, AB 5.
"We see it as a good start -- but it focuses entirely on teachers," CTA spokesman Frank Wells said. "There needs to be proper training for administrators to make sure the evaluations are being carried out effectively."
AB 5 passed through the Assembly despite the CTA's objection but has been tabled for now because the union that represents teachers in the state's largest school district mounted a court challenge to a local plan.
United Teachers Los Angeles is suing over Los Angeles Unified's "value-added" assessments, which would include student scores on standardized tests in evaluations.
Gadams, the Fresno teachers union chief, said a move toward using test scores might solve a lot of problems with the evaluations, which he called "too subjective" and allowed room for bias from administrators.
"We're not afraid of using test scores," he said. "We just want to make sure we're doing it in the right way."
For example, Gadams said, teachers who are assigned classes full of struggling students could be penalized unfairly if standardized test scores are the only measurement.
"The concern we have is that one test score is not a good indicator," he said. "There are too many factors that go into that one test score that are out of the teachers' control."
Instead of grading teachers by their students' performance on the annual statewide exams, which are given in the spring, Gad-ams said the Fresno union supports using minitests -- known as benchmark tests -- based on state standards to measure teacher effectiveness throughout the year.