11/10/2010 09:54 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

LA School Board Presses Ahead With 'Value-Added' Teacher Evaluations

The national debate over "value-added" teacher ratings has found an especially contentious battleground in Los Angeles.

Over the summer, Los Angeles Times reporters published teacher effectiveness ratings for 6,000 city teachers. Reporters collected seven years' worth of data from the Los Angeles Unified School District and analyzed it according to the "value-added" system.

According to the Times' definition,

"Value-added" analysis is a statistical method that estimates the effectiveness of a teacher or school by looking at the standardized test scores of students -- in this instance, math and English scores on the California Standards Tests.

When South LA fifth-grade teacher Rigoberto Ruelas received a "less effective than average" rating he grew visibly depressed, according to colleagues. Soon after, Ruelas' body was found in a forest ravine; the coroner determined he jumped to his own death.

Ruelas' suicide sparked a media frenzy in the city. According to fellow teachers, Ruelas was exemplary in his dedication to his students -- although test scores didn't reflect these efforts.

On Monday, more than a month after the incident, protesters marched in front of the Los Angeles Times. According to the New York Times, hundreds of protesters demanded that Ruelas' ratings be removed from the online database.

The use of value-added ratings has been a divisive issue around the nation. The federal Department of Education, headed by Arne Duncan, has come out in support of the rankings, arguing they help provide for greater accountability in the education system.

Teachers unions, meanwhile, have been fighting the use of value-added scores. In New York City, the union is currently embroiled in a lawsuit to keep the teachers' scores away from newspapers and public eyes.

According to American Federation of Teachers' President Randi Weingarten, the demand for value-added rankings has deterred the union's own teacher evaluation reforms.

Despite criticism, the Los Angeles school board is pushing ahead with their plan to include value-added scores in teacher evaluations.

The Los Angeles Times reports,

The Los Angeles Board of Education unanimously approved a contract Tuesday with a company that will analyze teachers' effectiveness in raising students' standardized test scores.

The agreement with the University of Wisconsin Value Added Research Center, which does similar work for New York City public schools, could cost about $1.5 million.

The next step? The school board is still in the midst of negotiations with union leaders to make value-added scores a part of formal teacher evaluations.

Meanwhile, the controversy rages on nationwide.