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T-TESS

Lawsuits filed over teacher evaluations

This ought to be interesting.

A statewide teachers group filed a lawsuit Wednesday in an attempt to block the state from implementing a controversial system that for the first time ties assessments of educators to student performance on standardized tests.

In a lawsuit filed against Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath in Travis County District Court, the Texas State Teachers Association alleges that the new teacher evaluation system — the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System, or T-TESS — violates state law by requiring school districts to base 20 percent of each teacher’s evaluation on “student growth measures” that include standardized test scores.

Those student growth measures may include “value added measures,” or VAM, which are “typically based on a complicated formula that compares actual student test scores to the scores predicted by a mathematical target based on the standardized test scores of similar student populations,” the association explained in a statement.

“TSTA contends that state law … clearly requires a teacher appraisal system adopted by the commissioner to be based on ‘observable, job-related behavior,’” the statement said. “But a VAM model is not ‘observable’ and is not even available to teachers and others who wish to understand the basis for their evaluations.”

“Teachers are not robots, and their performance should be evaluated by an easily understood, transparent system that helps them perfect their job performance,” association President Noel Candelaria said. “Educators’ compensation and jobs are potentially on the line here, and their work must be evaluated fairly – and legally.”

The new teacher evaluation system, which the state has been piloting for over a year, is set to take effect July 1. Participating school districts will use it to make pay, employment and other consequential decisions. It replaces a nearly 20-year-old state-recommended teacher evaluation method known as Professional Development and Appraisal System, or PDAS.

The evaluation system is called T-TESS, and I wrote about it here. The Chron notes that the TSTA wasn’t the only entity to sue over this.

The other suit, brought by the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, claims the state education commissioner does not have authority to set specific evaluation criteria.

[…]

The lawsuits add to a growing list of teachers suing states over similar student test-based systems. Locally, the Houston Federation of Teachers union sued the Houston Independent School District in 2014 over its evaluation method. That case is set for jury trial in September.

HISD was one of the first large school districts in the country in 2011 to link teachers’ job ratings to their students’ test scores. Traditionally, school principals graded teachers based solely on observing them in the classroom.

The Houston school district, however, has struggled to find ways to rate all teachers in the student performance category. State exams, for example, are not offered in certain grade levels or for elective courses. Last year, 43 percent of HISD’s teachers got student performance ratings.

Even so, Zeph Capo, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, said the state should not move to a similar test-based evaluation system.

“It’s affected kids in that it has detrimentally impacted the way that instruction is delivered,” Capo said. “That’s all anyone does anymore is teach to the test, period.”

See here and here for more on that HISD lawsuit. Note that the evaluation system is being pushed by one of the never-ending supply of well-funded “education reform” groups, and the law firm representing HISD in the suit also represents that group. That still strikes me as a conflict of interest. There may be value in using this kind of metric as part of a teacher’s evaluation, if everyone is in agreement about what is being measured and what the milestones are, but as the Statesman notes, we do not have consensus on this.

Morath, who was previously a Dallas school district trustee, has advocated for the use of value-added models, which supporters say increase teacher accountability and effectiveness.

The American Statistical Association, however, has cautioned school systems against relying on the models, saying teachers’ performance accounts for only a small part of the variability in how students progress.

“Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality,” the group said in a 2014 statement.

Seems like a pretty big caveat to me. I can’t say I’d want my job evaluations based on something like this, either. A statement from the TSTA is here, and Trail Blazers and the Rivard Report has more.

Meet T-TESS

Texas has a new teacher evaluation system on the way. It won’t come without a fight.

Texas’ more than 380,000 public school teachers are girding for a tumultuous few years as a new method of grading their performance is expected to generate heated legislative debates and perhaps legal challenges.

Already, the Houston Independent School District is facing a lawsuit challenging the effectiveness and accuracy of evaluating teachers based in part on their students’ performance. Legislators have scheduled a hearing on the issue this week as the state prepares to test a similar evaluation model.

For the first time in 17 years, the Texas Education Agency has proposed a new statewide teacher evaluation method, dubbed the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System, or T-TESS. According to details released last week, 70 percent of teacher grades under T-TESS will be based on classroom observations, 20 percent on “student growth” data including test scores and 10 percent on self-evaluation.

After a pilot beginning this fall, the finalized method will be rolled out in 2015 and will mandate every school district base 20 percent of its teacher grading system on student performance, which for some teachers includes “value-added data” based on state standardized test scores.

Previous evaluation methods have been voluntary and developed independently of the federal government. T-TESS, on the other hand, was developed to enable the state to opt out of certain student performance benchmarks mandated under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Federal approval of T-TESS is expected.

The T-TESS negotiations between TEA and the federal government have been cooperative, but that is likely to change. Teacher unions are raising the possibility of an HISD-like lawsuit, and lawmakers are preparing for another year of battles on the issue come January.

“Nothing is off the table,” said Linda Bridges, president of the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. Her group’s Houston affiliate is a plaintiff in the Houston lawsuit, and is one of many questioning the legality of the new method.

As noted, a lawsuit was filed over HISD’s teacher evaluation system, called EVAAS. That has to do with the way EVAAS does its evaluations, while the talk here is more over whether the TEA has the authority to implement something like T-TESS. It’s still more than a year before T-TESS would be rolled out, and there’s some suggestion in the story that this timeline is too optimistic. The later it actually goes live, the more likely there will be a court ruling in the suit against EVAAS, which could have an effect on things. There’s also likely to be some political backlash in 2016 one way or another, as education reform is an issue on which there’s a great deal of disagreement, in both parties. Keep an eye on this, it’s not going away.