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Legislation that would alter how California schools judge teachers flunked another test on Tuesday, failing to advance for the second time in a week.

The Senate Education Committee decided to reconsider the bill after deadlocking last week on a 4-4 vote (it needed five to pass), with Democrats and Republicans falling on both sides. The bill's author, Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, said he had altered his legislation to try and persuade opponents to shift their stance.

Currently, districts are required only to rank teachers as satisfactory or unsatisfactory. Senate Bill 441 would create four different grades, which Calderon said is essential for allowing schools to flag the lowest-performing educators, and would increase the frequency of evaluations for veteran teachers from at least every five years to at least every three years.

Calderon said he had amended the bill to emphasize that a section calling for more parent input would not affect collectively bargained contracts. He said he had no intention of dictating how schools would implement the new four-tiered grading system.

"I am not, in this piece of legislation, prescribing what those levels should be or what they should say," Calderon said.

But representatives of teachers unions had their doubts. Opponents of the bill -- a category that included the California Labor Federation, the California Teachers Association, the California Federation of Teachers and California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson -- slammed the bill for threatening to cut teachers out of the process and for imposing a broad formula that would override district-by-district bargaining.

"The best way to improve schools is to include teachers in the dialogue," said Chris Simenstad, a San Rafael teacher testifying on behalf of the California Federation of Teachers.

Chief backers of the bill, the Sacramento-based school reform organization StudentsFirst headed by former Washington, D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, urged its allies to flood the hearing. Whether or not Students First was responsible, the hearing room was packed with supporters, prompting committee chair Carol Liu to tell Calderon, "my goodness, you've brought your friends, too."

Teachers, parents and students lined up to testify on the need for a more rigorous evaluation system. Many of them pointed out that students can receive variations of five different letter grades and argued that teachers should be similarly gauged. The strong show of support made for a relatively raucous hearing, with members of the audience alternately applauding or shouting "no!" during testimony.

"The majority of teachers like me want to get that (additional) feedback," Los Angeles teacher Jeanette Marrone testified. "I'm a highly effective teacher," she added, "not just a satisfactory one."

After a motion for a vote was inconclusive -- the panel was nearly empty, with most lawmakers having drifted out of the hearing room -- supporters filed out. Standing outside was Lisa Cain, a community college professor who said she has taught every grade but second and 12th and pronounced herself "super frustrated." She skipped a class she teaches to attend this hearing, as she had last week.

"When you have an evaluation, you then have a competitive edge," Cain said, arguing that teachers need regular evaluations to keep up with the pace at which classroom instruction evolves. "It helps you gauge whether your students look at you with a sense of confidence that you know what you're doing."

PHOTO CREDIT: A teacher keeps an eye on her class as she leads them out of the classroom at Greer Elementary in Sacramento. January 17, 2013. Renee C. Byer/The Sacramento Bee.


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