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Court Won't Require Test Scores to Be Used in Teacher Evaluations

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on September 27, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

When grading teacher performance, school districts aren't required to incorporate students' standardized test scores, a judge in Northern California ruled last week. Contra County Superior Court Judge Barry Goode rejected arguments by the nonprofit group Students Matter that the school districts were required to make standardized test scores a central part of teacher evaluations.

School districts have broad discretion in how to evaluate their teachers' performance, Judge Goode ruled, and all of the 13 districts sued by Students Matter were complying with their legal obligations.

No Need to Use Standardized Test Scores

The lawsuit, Doe v. Antioch, alleged that the teacher contracts in 13 school districts violated the Stull Act, the state law which requires school districts to evaluate teacher performance. Those evaluations are to be based on four criteria, including, where applicable, student performance as "measured by state adopted criterion referenced assessments." The petitioners, Judge Goode explained, argue that this requirement is "focused on outcomes -- how well the students are learning, rather than inputs -- how well the teacher is teaching." Those outcomes, Students Matter argued, must be measured by state standardized tests.

The teacher contracts at issue prohibited the use of standardized test results in individual teacher evaluations.

But those contracts do not violate the law, Judge Goode ruled. "The Legislature endorses many uses of those tests, including evaluating pupils, entire schools and local educational agencies," the judge wrote. "But it does not say the results should be used to evaluate individual teachers."

The lawsuit sought to build off a 2012 settlement with the Los Angeles Unified School District in which the district agreed to use student test scores in teacher evaluations, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Impact Litigation Failing to Make an Impact

The ruling is the second recent defeat for Students Matter. The group was founded in 2011 by the Silicon Valley businessman David Welch, with the goal of using impact litigation to spur public education reform.

In August, the California Supreme Court rejected another lawsuit by Students Matter, this time directed at job protections for teachers, such as teacher tenure. The court refused to hear the group's argument that teacher protections deprived students of their right to a quality education.

While protections for teachers have been blame for poor educational performance, under the theory that students could be better served if bad teachers could be more easily fired, a recent report by the Learning Policy Institute identified teacher turnover, not teacher tenure, as one of the major obstacles facing schools and a major contributor to teacher shortages.

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