Legislature may consider new teacher evaluation system

A new teacher evaluation system being tested by the Texas Education Agency in the 2014-2015 school year was on the agenda at a May 14 meeting of the House Public Education Committee.

The piloting of the Teacher Evaluation and Support System announced on May 5 will include a student growth measure that counts for 20 percent of the evaluation. For teachers of grades or subjects assessed by the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR), student growth measures will be based on students’ performance on those exams. Teachers in grades and subjects not tested by STAAR will have their student growth measure based on district-determined options, such as portfolios or district-level benchmark tests. For all teachers, the other 80 percent of the evaluation is designed to measure planning, instruction, the learning environment, and professional responsibilities as measured by classroom observations, teacher self-assessments, ongoing feedback from the school community, and other factors.

Education Code, sec. 21.351, requires the commissioner to adopt a recommended teacher appraisal process that includes among its criteria the performance of a teacher’s students. The education commissioner, in a letter to the committee, said the agency had been working to develop a new system even before Texas applied for a waiver from certain provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law but that the state’s ability to maintain the waiver likely would depend on action by the Texas Legislature.

Under the waiver, school districts have more flexibility in how they spend 20 percent of their Title 1 federal dollars to help students struggling to pass their STAAR exams. Grant of the federal waiver was conditioned on Texas developing new guidelines that included student growth as a significant factor in determining a teacher’s or principal’s summative evaluation rating. In a letter to the committee, the commissioner said the state’s ability to maintain the NCLB waiver will likely depend on whether the Legislature requires all districts in the state to use the evaluation system that the agency has developed or a local option that matches or exceeds its requirements. The commissioner indicated that without legislative action he could not and would not try to require all districts to adopt the state system or one that exceeds its requirements.

At the May 14 hearing, some committee members expressed concern that the results from districts participating in the pilot program would not be available before the end of the regular session of the 84th Legislature next year.

Debate on any proposed legislative action likely would include the implications of including student test scores in teacher evaluations.

Supporters of making student test scores a part of teacher evaluations say it would help ensure that students – particularly those struggling to succeed — were being taught by highly qualified teachers. They say scores on standardized tests are a valid way to measure student growth and that most other states and some Texas school districts already include student achievement data in teacher evaluations.

Opponents of making student test scores a part of teacher evaluations say STAAR tests were not designed for this purpose and that it would raise the stakes of exams already criticized for causing too much stress and playing too dominant a role in Texas classrooms. They question the fairness of using different means of measuring student growth for different teachers, depending on whether their students are in grades and courses subject to STAAR testing.

by Janet Elliott

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