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Teacher-Evaluation Bid in Texas Gets Poor Union Reception

By guest blogger Andrew Ujifusa

This post originally appeared on the State EdWatch blog.

The Texas Education Agency has submitted a proposed teacher evaluation system to the U.S. Department of Education as part of the state's waiver from the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Sent to the feds on May 2, 20 percent of teachers' evaluation would be based on student growth that will be based in part on state standardized assessments, while teachers' self-assessment would count for 10 percent and classroom observations would count for 70 percent.

The plan in the Lone Star State is to pilot the new evaluation system, called the Teacher Evaluation Support System, in 72 districts during the 2014-15 school year, and for the system to be fully implemented for the 2015-16 school year. 

"We have heard from Texas teachers that the current evaluation system used by 86 percent of our school districts is outdated and provides little value in regard to meaningful professional feedback and growth," said Commissioner of Education Michael Williams in a statement announcing the submission. The new system, he said, is by contrast designed to support professional development for teachers.

Last September, just before the government shutdown, Texas won an NCLB waiver, but this waiver only lasted one year—the state could tack on another year to its waiver if it submitted a finalized teacher-evaluation plan. Texas is hoping this newly submitted plan gets them that extra waiver year.  

In a more detailed description of the evaluation system, Texas explained that the new system, in the works since 2011 through the help of a teacher steering committee, "aligns with the idea that a teacher's primary focus should include the daily interaction between a teacher and his/her students—around building positive relationships with students in the midst of productive learning environments that seek to address students' academic, cognitive and developmental needs."

Scores from state standardized tests would be used for the 20 percent of the evaluations based on student growth where possible. Here's how teachers will be categorized based on those scores:

• two or more standard errors above expected growth 
• more than one but less than two standard errors above expected growth 
• between one standard error above and one standard error below expected growth 
• more than one but less than two standard errors below expected growth 
• two or more standard errors below expected growth

For teachers that don't teach in subjects where such test scores can be used, districts would be able to choose from student portfolio work, as well as district-level tests and student learning objectives. 

This is the second time in a week that teacher evaluations have made major headlines in Texas. As my colleague Stephen Sawchuk discussed on May 1, the Houston affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers sued the city school district over its use of value-added measures in teacher evaluations. So it will come as no surprise to learn that teachers' unions are not super happy about the statewide plan, either. 

"The commissioner's game plan to increase the misuse of test scores and rely on black-box formulas for evaluations should add fuel to the revolt among parents, students, and teachers against this destructive course for Texas education," Texas AFT President Linda Bridges said in a statement.

You can also compare Texas' proposed evaluation system to those in three states (Arizona, Kansas, and Oregon) now on "high risk" status for potentially losing their NCLB waivers, as my colleague Alyson Klein wrote about May 5.

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