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Houston District Settles Lawsuit With Teachers' Union Over Value-Added Scores

The Houston school district has settled a federal lawsuit brought by the teacher's union over the school system's controversial teacher evaluation system, which involved a secret algorithm.

At issue was the use of "value added"—a statistical method aimed at calculating how much a teacher contributed to students' academic growth, as measured by standardized tests. Between the 2011-12 and 2015-16 school years, value-added measures counted for a significant portion of teachers' overall evaluation scores in Houston. Teachers could be terminated based on those evaluation scores. 

The Houston Federation of Teachers filed the lawsuit in 2014 on behalf of nine teachers who claimed the value-added approach violated their constitutional rights. Value-added scores in the district were derived by a third-party vendor using a proprietary algorithm—meaning teachers (and the district, for that matter) had no way of seeing how scores were calculated, or verifying their accuracy. The union and teachers argued this deprived them of their right to due process.

The value-added approach also put certain groups of teachers, including those who teach English-language learners and high-achieving students, at risk of lower scores, the plaintiffs also claimed.

Between 2010 and 2015, a flurry of states passed laws requiring teacher evaluation systems include objective student measures, such as test scores. The Houston lawsuit was one of more than a dozen filed by teacher's unions in federal and state courts around the country at about the same time. 

A federal judge gave an initial ruling on the Houston case in May, allowing it to continue. As part of this month's settlement, the district will pay $237,000 in legal fees and agrees to no longer use "unverifiable" value-added scores as a basis for termination. The district ended its contract with the third-party vendor doing the value-added calculations in 2016 and has not replaced it. 

Daniel Santos, one of the teacher plaintiffs who received an ineffective rating under the evaluation system, told the Houston Chronicle he was pleased with the settlement.

"I have always been devoted to my students and proud of my teaching skills," he said. "Houston needs a well-developed system that properly evaluates teachers, provides good feedback and ensures that educators will receive continuous, targeted professional development to improve their performance."


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