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Courts are Now Weighing in on Teacher Evaluations

With the debate raging on about what it takes to develop an effective teacher evaluation system, a New York state court recently made things even more murky. Acting Justice Roger McDonough, who presides in Albany, N.Y., recently backed a teacher’s lawsuit that claimed it was unlawful for her performance to be judged by student test scores.

Although the outcome of student performance has increasingly become a factor in teacher evaluations, along with curriculum, professionalism and leadership, teachers have started fighting back against what they consider to be an ineffective way of judging their performance.

In McDonough’s ruling, he said that the process that determined that Sheri Lederman was ineffective, based on New York’s 2013-14 statistical growth model, was “arbitrary and capricious.”

Lederman had filed the lawsuit after receiving a high score on the student-growth portion one year, and then the lowest score on that part of her evaluation just one year later. As a result, she contended that the methodology to make such evaluations was ineffective.

Lawsuits around the nation

While Lederman’s lawsuit has been getting plenty of attention recently, it certainly is not the only one. Across the nation, lawsuits have been filed to challenge the methodology used to rate teachers’ performance in employee evaluations.

The American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association have been leading the way in challenging many of these systems in federal and state courts. Some of the lawsuits focus on how systems were put in place while others are challenging specific aspects of teacher evaluations, especially the use of test scores to rate teachers.

Here are a few of the lawsuits that have been filed:

Florida: At least two lawsuits were filed against the state for the handling of teacher evaluations, with the state and federal courts ruling in favor of the state.

Louisiana: In its lawsuit, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers challenged a 2012 law that ties teacher evaluation to tenure and pay scales. After the law was struck down by a state court judge, the state supreme court reversed the ruling. Now, the union is pursuing additional changes through the legislature.

Texas: In Houston, Texas, the local Federation of Teachers union has challenged standards on what t constitutes enough student growth under the district’s evaluation system. The organization charges that the metrics are vague; the statistical evaluation method is unclear, and some teachers are at risk of lower scores, simply because of the challenges faced by their students such as those who speak English as a second language and, therefore, are at risk for lower scores. The trial is scheduled for June.