Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, November 13, 2014


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State Supreme Court Will Not Revive Order That LAUSD Disclose Teacher Scores by Name


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The California Supreme Court yesterday left standing a ruling by this district’s Court of Appeal that allows the Los Angeles Unified School District to redact teachers’ names before making public a statistical measurement of job performance.

The justices, at their weekly conference in San Francisco, voted 5-1 to deny review in  Los Angeles Unified School District v. Superior Court (Los Angeles Times Communications LLC) (2014) 228 Cal. App. 4th 222. The court also denied requests by the publishing company and by the open government group Californians Aware to depublish the opinion by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Russell Kussman, sitting on assignment.

Only Justice Marvin Baxter, who is retiring Jan. 5, voted to have the court hear the case.

The Court of Appeal panel agreed with the LAUSD and United Teachers Los Angeles that any public interest in disclosure of the unredacted “academic growth over time” scores is outweighed by the public interest in keeping the information secret.

The data thus falls under the “catch-all” exemption from the California Public Records Act, found in Government Code §6255, the court said.

The metric, referred to as AGT for short, is calculated by comparing students’ actual scores on standardized tests with the scores the students were predicted to achieve based on a host of socio-demographic and other factors.

These AGT scores are calculated at various levels—by individual teacher, by grade, by school, and by subject matter. The district releases the individual teacher scores with names redacted, and also releases scores by grade, school, and subject matter.

Under a November 2012 agreement with the union, the district is permitted to use individual AGT scores “solely to give perspective and to assist in reviewing the past [California Standardized Test] results of the teacher,” and not as part of a final evaluation. The agreement also designates the individual scores as a “confidential personnel record” and requires the district to defend that principle in court.

The Los Angeles Times has been seeking disclosure of the unredacted individual teacher results for several years. The district provided the information in 2010 and 2011, but declined to provide the information subsequently, reasoning that because it would be using the information for evaluation purposes, it was exempt from disclosure under the preliminary drafts, personnel records, and catch-all exemptions.

By petition for writ of mandate filed in October 2012, the Times sought to compel disclosure of individual scores linked to the teacher’s name and location code, which—unlike the redacted scores—would make it possible to compare results of teachers working within the same school, or of individuals working in different schools.

The district responded with a declaration by then-Superintendent John Deasy, in which he cited his 30 years of experience and opined that the requested disclosure would be detrimental to the district in numerous ways.

He said it would undermine teacher morale and sow workplace discord, interfere with recruitment and retention, promote poaching of teachers with high scores, result in efforts by parents to influence the assignments of their children to particular classrooms, undermine low-scoring teachers’ efforts to exercise authority in their classrooms, and adversely affect the teacher disciplinary process by creating a new basis for comparison.

UTLA intervened and filed its own opposition, attaching a declaration from a UC Berkeley expert who said that “value-added” metrics like AGT are too new to permit a valid conclusion that releasing results by name is good public policy.

Superior Court Judge James Chalfant acknowledged that the teacher jealousies and embarrassments referred to by Deasy were “serious harms,” but sided with the Times, saying the AGT scores were an attempt to “shed light” on how effective the teachers were and how the district was doing its job.

Kussman, however, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the district had carried its burden of showing that the public interest in disclosure was too “minimal or hypothetical” to outweigh the harms, and that the catch-all exemption therefore applied.

In other conference action, the justices unanimously left standing a ruling by this district’s Div. Four that allows a trial judge to decide a dispute as to control of a nearly century-old Anglican parish in Hollywood.

Div. Four ruled July 23 in The Rector, Wardens, and Vestrymen of St. Mary of the Angels’ Parish v. Anglican Church in America, B248112, that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael P. Linfield erred in dismissing a group of suits regarding St. Mary of the Angels’ Parish on the ground that the cases presented ecclesiastical issues that cannot be resolved by a civil court.

On remand, the appeals court said, the judge will have to determine the validity of a 2012 vote by the parish, a religious corporation under California law, to disaffiliate from the Anglican Church in America.

Linfield said that issue could not be resolved without involving the court in the adjudication of religious doctrine, contrary to the constitutional separation of church and state. But Justice Thomas L. Willhite Jr., in his opinion for the Court of Appeal, said the case could be resolved under neutral principles of law, applying state Supreme Court precedent.

Willhite agreed with Linfield that the validity of the rector’s removal by the parent church was an ecclesiastical question. But the trial court can still decide, based on the relevant corporate documents, who the members of the vestry are, and who is qualified to vote on a bylaws amendment, the justice said.

The Supreme Court, while declining to review that ruling, also denied attorneys’ requests to publish Willhite’s opinion.


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