The Los Angeles Unified School District developed a statistical model designed to measure a teacher's effect on his or her students' performance in the California Standards Tests ("CST"). This model uses a "value-added" methodology to create an Academic Growth Over Time ("AGT") score, which is derived by comparing students' actual CST scores with scores students are predicted to achieve based on past performance and a wide variety of socio-demographic and other factors. Through a website, the district publicly makes available aggregate AGT scores by school, which can be broken down by grade, subject matter, and other variables such as gender and race.
In October 2011, the Los Angeles Times ("Times") made a California Public Records Act ("CPRA") request to the district for the AGT scores for the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years. The district responded that scores for both years were exempt from disclosure under the personnel records exemption—since AGT scores would be part of a teacher's evaluation process—and the catch-all exemption. However, the district also responded that it would provide teacher AGT scores for the 2010-2011 school year, but with teacher names redacted. In August 2012, the Times submitted another CPRA request, seeking the 2011-2012 teacher AGT scores. The district denied the request on the same grounds and again agreed to provide teacher AGT scores with names redacted.
A few months later, the Times challenged the decision to withhold teacher names in the trial court, under the CPRA, seeking the AGT scores of each teacher identified by name, and the location codes indicating the schools to which each teacher was assigned. The district objected on the same grounds as before and provided a declaration from its superintendent, which expressed many concerns regarding the release of unredacted teacher AGT scores. Some of these concerns included unhealthy comparison of scores between coworkers and breeding discord in the workplace, discouraging recruitment of quality candidates or causing teachers to leave, disrupting balanced classroom assignments as parents pushed to have their children moved to or from teachers, and adversely affecting the teacher disciplinary process.
However, the trial court found that the superintendent's concerns were speculative. Ultimately, the court ruled that the district had not met its burden to prove that teacher AGT scores met either exemption, and ordered the district to release the scores with teacher names and location codes for the years 2009 through 2012. The district appealed.
The Court of Appeal ruled that scores of individual teachers identified by name did not have to be disclosed after applying the balancing test in the catch-all exemption. The appellate court considered the superintendent's declaration to be expert opinion on his predictions for the consequences of disclosing unredacted scores, rather than being speculative. This admissible expert opinion demonstrated a substantial public interest in nondisclosure. On the other hand, the court was not convinced that knowing the name of a teacher and his or her individual AGT score contributed significantly to public understanding of how well the district is performing. The district had already released redacted teacher AGT scores to the Times. In balancing between these two interests, the court concluded that the interest in nondisclosure clearly outweighed the interest in disclosure.
Because the court held that the catch-all exemption applied, it did not determine whether the personnel records exemption applied. The appellate court also returned the case to the trial court to determine whether the district should disclose location codes since it was not adequately addressed in the record.
Los Angeles Unified School District v. Superior Court (2014) 228 Cal.App.4th 222