SOUTH GATE (CBS)  — The Los Angeles Times should remove teacher performance ratings from its Web site after the apparent suicide of a teacher despondent over his score, the union representing Los Angeles school teachers said.

South Gate Teacher Jumps To His Death: KNX 1070’s John Brooks Reports

United Teachers Los Angeles also has asked school administrators to join with them in the request to the newspaper, which published the ratings last month, union president AJ Duffy said.

The body of 39-year-old Rigoberto Ruelas Jr., a fifth-grade teacher at Miramonte Elementary School, was found Sunday at the foot of a remote forest bridge in what appears to be a suicide.

The motive for Ruelas taking his own life is far from clear. But union officials said he had been upset since the Times published his district ranking as a “less effective” teacher based on his students’ standardized English and math test scores.

Ruelas scored “average” in getting his students up to acceptable levels in English, but “less effective” in math, and “less effective” overall. The school itself ranked as “least effective” in raising test scores, and only five of Miramonte’s 35 teachers were ranked as high as average.

The rankings were contained in a database analyzing seven years of student test score data for students taught by 6,000 third- to fifth-grade teachers.

In a statement, the newspaper extended its condolences to the family and said it published the database “because it bears directly on the performance of public employees who provide an important service, and in the belief that parents and the public have a right to judge the data for themselves.”

The publication of individual rankings sparked widespread outrage among teachers. The rankings ranged from least and less effective to average, more effective and most effective.

The union protested in front of the newspaper’s downtown headquarters and called for a boycott of the Times, which published the rankings as part of a push for a better method to evaluate teacher effectiveness.

Although other factors may have been at play in Ruelas’ death, union official Mathew Taylor said Monday he believed the ranking was a contributing factor based on conversations with teachers at the school. Principals have been using the rankings to crack down on teachers, he said.

“He was a very well-respected teacher,” Taylor said. “He took the pressure being applied to him to heart.”

Ruelas was last seen Sept. 19 when he dropped off a birthday gift for his sister. He notified the school to get a substitute for his classes Monday and Tuesday, but he did not return to work Wednesday and his family reported him missing.

Superintendent Ramon Cortines has said the type of teacher rankings published by the Times, known as “value-added,” shouldn’t be used as the sole criteria to measure effectiveness.

The school board last month authorized the district to start developing a new method for evaluating teachers that incorporates value-added rankings, as well as in-classroom observation and other measures.

Detractors say value-added rankings place too much emphasis on test-score teaching, especially in schools like Miramonte, a large school in an impoverished, gang-plagued neighborhood about six miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. About 60 percent of Miramonte students are Spanish-speaking English-language learners.

“Test scores are directly related to the socio-economic status of the student population,” said Taylor. “The best teachers are given the toughest kids. This man had won many awards.”

By all accounts, Ruelas did not shy away from problem kids.

Parents and former students described him as a mentor to youth tempted to join gangs and a tireless booster that low-income children could make it to college. He often stayed after school to tutor struggling kids and offer counseling so they stayed on the straight and narrow.

“He took the worse students and tried to change their lives,” said Ismael Delgado, a 20-year-old former student. “I had friends who wanted to be gangsters, but he talked them out of it. He treated you like family.”

(© Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (10)
  1. Dan says:

    Just because 1 person took his life, doesn’t mean that rankings should be taken down. Teachers should be held to higher standards than students. If the students have to be graded in order to pass a grade…then teachers should be graded as well. They are being paid to do a job, and if that’s not being done…these ratings will tell us. RIP

    1. RICHARD MORIN says:

      Without a note, it is imposible to say just what led to RUELAS’ suicide. This attempt to link it to his ratings is just a CHEAP SHOT by union activists, an I say HOGWASH. I feel sorry for the unfortunate man, but not for the union.

  2. Real World says:

    This is taxpayer money. Hello, transparency. The union wants to be unregulated, unmonitored, and unaccountable. Who wouldn’t want this kind of arrangement? Idiots…wake up parents!!!

  3. jerome says:

    too bad let the unions hold the responibility just like they should

  4. Tired of the Union says:

    I’m fed up with the Union’s BS and their constant support of mediocre employee performance. The Union needs to start being honest with mediocre employees that you represent, and stop trying to blame the employer and management for the employee poor performance. Do your job and represent the employee.

    Unions in California have created a situation were there is no longer that strong support. Hopefully, Meg Whitman is elected and puts the unions out of business and outsources them to another state..

  5. joe says:

    100 percent Transparncy!

  6. DW says:

    If you give a union mouse a cookie…he will ask you for this and for that, eventually he will suck you dry. We can’t take this anymore, it’s time to bring in the cat!

  7. buck says:

    leave em alone. if no one else is gonna track our teachers im glad they are here

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