DOWNTOWN — Members of the Santa Monica Malibu Classroom Teachers Association weighed in on a number of hot button topics in a partial set of survey results released by the union last week.

Over 400 teachers participated in the 30-question, unscientific survey, one-third of which was given to the Daily Press Friday. The straight results have not yet been given to either the Board of Education, nor the Superintendent’s Office.

The 11 questions the Daily Press reviewed cover a variety of topics, including opinions on class sizes, the role of student test scores in teacher evaluations and what factors should be taken into account when deciding teacher salaries.

Teachers were given statements and then allowed to choose one of four responses: strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree and strongly disagree.

When asked about class sizes, which have been on the rise throughout the district, 88.6 percent of teachers agreed either strongly or somewhat that reducing class sizes would both improve working conditions and allow them to maximize student outcomes.

The vast majority of teachers also named reducing class sizes as their top priority in improving their working conditions, with 72.8 percent strongly agreeing. Only 3.7 percent disagreed to any degree with that statement.

Student performance on standardized tests received increasing attention as a way to measure a teacher’s effectiveness, particularly after the 2002 passage of No Child Left Behind, which required states to create assessments to measure student achievement in order to receive federal funding.

According to the survey results, almost 72 percent of teachers felt it was important to increase student achievement on standardized tests.

On the other hand, only 50.5 percent believed that test scores should be a part of a teacher’s evaluation, while 62.6 percent disagreed with the notion of linking test scores to the models used to determine teacher pay.

At present, test scores are only one component of a teacher’s evaluation, said Superintendent Tim Cuneo.

“It’s not weighted like the discussions you hear now on the national or state level,” he said.

Margo Pensavalle, a professor of clinical education at the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education, noted that test scores are indicators primarily about the student, not just about the teacher.

“The goal for test scores is to help us understand what students are achieving and what outcomes we have for learning,” she said. “It’s important to stay focused on the student.”

The scores should be envisioned as a package of data put together for students, and considered alongside a myriad of other components when considering how a teacher’s effectiveness is impacting student learning, she said.

Effective teachers are created by instructional leaders on a site level, Pensavalle said.

“We look so myopically at the test scores because principals are so busy they don’t get into the classrooms to see how teachers are doing,” Pensavalle said.

Questions included in the survey concerning the importance of supportive site administrators and the need for site-based professional development both garnered over 90 percent support amongst teachers.

In questions concerning compensation, teachers overwhelmingly stated that they were directly impacted by the economic downturn, with over 90 percent agreeing either strongly or somewhat.

That comes in light of a 5.5 percent pay cut taken over the last two years.

Perhaps more telling, however, was that 49.1 percent of teachers told the SMMCTA that teacher pay would cause them to leave the profession sooner than they would otherwise prefer.

Teachers’ union president Harry Keiley called that statistic “troubling.”

“We know that a high turnover rate is not good for any organization,” he said.

According to Keiley, a new teacher in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District makes $45,000 in base salary, with approximately $9,000 in benefits. Teachers who have been in the district 18 years can get up to $88,000 in base pay.

Neither the Board of Education nor Cuneo have seen the raw data at this point, although some of the responses have been read aloud at board meetings.

Keiley said that he hopes the results will help inform the discussion held with district officials as bargaining between the union and district moves forward.

“It gives us great insight,” Keiley said. “There’s an old saying, the last people asked about how to improve education and the schools is the teachers.”

In general, the board looks forward to getting a chance to see the full context of the survey, said board president Jose Escarce.

“Understanding the teachers’ perspectives is always good,” Escarce said. “We have our own, and understanding when the teachers’ preferences are in line with ours and when not is valuable.”

Teachers and their union have a number of mechanisms to make their wants and desires known, Escarce said, particularly at the negotiating table.

ashley@www.smdp.com

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