On Aug. 28, 2013, TEA posted the final ESEA/NCLB waiver request that the agency filed with the U.S. Department of Education on behalf of the state of Texas. The final waiver changed significantly from the initial draft, which TEA posted for public comment in March 2013.

Change of direction

Although the bulk of the 72-page waiver request is devoted to college and career-ready standards and accountability, it contains troubling provisions regarding teacher evaluations as a result of ongoing negotiations with the USDE.

Chief among the troubling provisions is a commitment by TEA to “include student achievement growth as a significant measure” in teacher evaluations.

In a Sept. 3 interview with the Austin American-Statesman on the waiver request, TCTA Director of Professional Development and Advocacy Holly Eaton expressed concern that tying student achievement to teacher evaluations was one of the "strings attached" requirements of many of the USDE’s previous education initiatives, including the Race to the Top program and the conditional NCLB waiver, both of which Texas declined to pursue – a decision TCTA supported.

“We are now seeing other states that did apply for Race to the Top struggle under these onerous, expensive, and unworkable requirements,” said Eaton in the Statesman article [subscription required], which explains that these federal requirements say teachers must be evaluated in part using test data, but testing data does not even exist for 80 percent of teachers, including first-grade teachers whose students have not yet taken exams.

Although TEA chose not to pursue the NCLB conditional waiver, but rather one that could be granted by the U.S. secretary of education under the general waiver authority granted him by the NCLB, there are questions about why TEA ultimately included the teacher evaluation commitment in the final waiver request.

Clearly there is pressure from Texas districts and superintendents for the state to secure a waiver that would exempt them from meeting federal Adequate Yearly Progress standards, which require more than 90 percent of students to pass the state reading and math tests in 2012-13. (Those AYP ratings have not yet been issued due to TEA's ongoing waiver negotiations with USDE.) Without a waiver, 85 percent of Texas school districts would potentially fail to meet that target. In 2013-14, 100 percent of students must pass the state’s reading and math assessments to meet federal Adequate Yearly Progress standards. At the time of this posting, 40 states and the District of Columbia had received waivers.

Teacher evaluation details

Although the commissioner emphasized that district participation in any new state-developed teacher evaluation system would be voluntary, the waiver states that if a district does not implement the state model or a system that has the same components as the state model, TEA will require districts to revert to implementing the state model.

The waiver specifies the components of the new state teacher evaluation system as: Classroom Observations and Feedback, Student Growth and Learning, and Professional Engagement and Growth. However, since state law does not require locally developed appraisal systems to contain the same components as the state system, TCTA questions whether TEA has the legal authority to require this of districts.

Other statements of significance in the waiver request related to teacher evaluation include:

  • The new teacher evaluation system will be used for continual improvement, providing timely and useful feedback and to inform personnel decisions.
  • Possible methods for measuring the change in student achievement for an individual student between two or more points in time include: the use of performance on state assessments at the campus and individual teacher level, team or individual student-learning objectives, and performance on district-based assessments.
  • TEA is currently developing and piloting various tools (including value-added measures, new observation rubrics, and campus climate surveys) to accurately measure the performance of teachers and principals.
  • Through the stakeholder input process during the next year, TEA will determine the most appropriate measures for utilizing student growth as a significant measure in evaluations. Over the past three years, TEA has worked with outside contractors, most recently American Institutes for Research, to develop both a campus-wide and individual teacher value-add metric. In September 2013, TEA will share initial results of the value-add metric with campus leaders and teachers of the initial pilot schools. The agency will continue to refine the model and gauge the appropriateness of its use in the evaluation system. Additionally, TEA will begin exploring ways to provide districts with resources and guidelines for developing locally based measures of student growth to be used at the district and campus levels.
  • Districts shall perform annual or more frequent evaluations with no more than three years in between. (Current state law allows districts to adopt policies providing for teachers whose most recent evaluations were proficient to be exempt from annual appraisals for up to five years.)

Teacher evaluation system implementation timeline

The timeline for implementation of the new teacher evaluation system identified by TEA in the waiver request includes the development of tools already being piloted (value-added measures, new observation rubrics, and campus climate surveys) during the 2013-14 school year. The system would be piloted in 40 school districts in 2014-15. 

Following the piloting period, the waiver request states that TEA will update state rules to reflect a new, holistic system that includes all of the components, and statewide rollout of the new evaluation system would begin in 2015-16.

Commitment to end use of STAAR-M

Even though the USDE has posted for public comment a proposal to transition away from current federal regulations that authorize states to use modified tests for special education students, the department has already required all states receiving NCLB waivers to commit to stop using these tests. TEA also made this commitment for Texas in the final waiver request. Read more about the elimination of the STAAR-M.

What’s next?

TEA did not seek public comment on the final draft, but the waiver request states that the agency “will engage superintendents, the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB), the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA), and teacher organizations” as it implements the terms agreed to in the waiver.

Although it is far from certain that the USDE will grant Texas’ waiver request, some experts speculate that the concessions TEA made in the final request are attempts to increase the chances of the waiver’s approval.