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Texas Teachers' Union Sues to Block New Evaluation System

The Texas State Teachers Association has filed suit in a state district court seeking to block the July 1 rollout of a new teacher-evaluation system. The union contends that the system, which would have districts base at least 20 percent of a teacher's score on "student growth measures," violates a state law that requires that educators' evaluations be based exclusively on "observable, job-related behavior."

The new Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System, or T-TESS, opens the door to the use of controversial, so-called value-added measures (VAM) to gauge teachers' impact on test results, the suit asserts. In a statement released along with the suit, the union argues that VAM isn't in fact observable as required by law.

"Commissioner Morath's appraisal system clearly violates state law because he doesn't have the authority to substitute a confusing, test-based statistical formula for the work teachers and students actually do in their classrooms," union president Noel Candelaria said in a statement. "Teachers are not robots, and their performance should be evaluated by an easily understood, transparent system that helps them perfect their job performance. Let's be clear. Educators' compensation and jobs are potentially on the line here, and their work must be evaluated fairly—and legally."

The union—the Texas affiliate of the National Education Association representing teachers in over 400 districts—cites a much-circulated policy statement by the American Statistical Association to back up their claims. My co-blogger Stephen Sawchuk reported on that brief when it was released back in 2014:

"Its takeaways for the K-12 community: Proceed carefully and make sure teachers, administrators, and parents are aware of VAM's limitations. For instance, the group notes, test quality and the types of controls used in the formulas will affect the end results. Moreover, the ASA says, the focus on individual teachers' performance could detract from needed attention to system improvement. "

T-TESS would only be voluntary for districts to adopt, but all districts in the state must adopt an evaluation system that includes some measure of student performance by the 2017-18 school year. The Texas Tribune reported that most districts do in fact adopt the state-suggested system to ensure they're in line with state and federal rules.

As the system is optional, T-TESS will have no effect on an on-going federal lawsuit over Houston's evaluation system. As Sawchuk reported, the Houston Federation of Teachers allege that the district's use of VAM violates teachers' constitutional rights. Sawchuk noted that the Houston suit came on the heels of similar efforts in Florida and Tennessee. As I reported last month, lawmakers in both of those states have been considering bills that would curtail the use of VAM.

In all, there have been well over a dozen lawsuits filed in federal and state courts challenging aspects of test-based evaluation systems. Some cases are still pending, but none has been successful yet. 

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