TCTA and other teacher groups met with Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams and TEA staff Jan. 7, 2014, to discuss teacher quality issues. The commissioner called the meeting as TEA begins development of a new state model for teacher evaluation. The agency must submit final guidelines by May 2 to the U.S. Department of Education on a system that uses student growth, as measured by statewide assessments, as a significant factor in teacher evaluations to fulfill the conditions of Texas’ NCLB waiver.

Student tests an invalid measure of teacher performance

During group discussion on the most important issues related to the design of a new statewide teacher evaluation system, TCTA representatives expressed the association’s major concerns with basing an individual teacher’s evaluation on the test performance of that teacher’s students. TCTA said that the weight of the research shows that using student test performance to evaluate teacher proficiency is not valid or reliable.

When the commissioner asked TCTA to elaborate, representatives pointed to many concerns. For one, testing experts are adamant that using tests for teacher evaluation that were not designed for that purpose, but rather designed for assessing students, makes them an invalid measure for use in teacher evaluation.

The commissioner asked if this meant they were deemed invalid even if measuring student growth as opposed to student attainment of a particular standard. TCTA responded that it doesn’t matter if the tests are used to show student growth or numbers of students passing, it’s the measure itself that is invalid for teacher evaluation.

The commissioner then asked if it made any difference whether student test scores were a small or large percentage of a teacher’s evaluation. TCTA responded that if it’s not a valid measure, it’s not valid as 5 percent or 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.

The commissioner said he was interested in seeing the research, and TCTA offered to provide the summary of research on value-added models (VAMs) of teacher assessment that TCTA staff had compiled.

Several attendees, including TCTA, also expressed concern that teacher evaluation systems in which an individual teacher’s student test performance is run through complex statistical formulas to calculate the teacher’s “value-added” score — systems that are already in use in several Texas school districts — are having a negative impact. Hundreds of teachers are resigning, and such systems should not be used as models for the new state-developed evaluation system.

Alternative measures and other solutions

The group then discussed alternative teacher evaluation methods and the need for multiple measures, as well as the goal of the new teacher evaluation system — is it to help teachers improve or “fire bad teachers”? The commissioner said there had been no discussion about using the new system for the latter.

With teacher improvement as the goal, discussion turned to shifting the focus from evaluation to preparation, the need to make teaching a more appealing profession, and putting into place targeted, fully funded programs that address the many factors other than teacher performance that impact student achievement. 

The commissioner said that he and the TEA staff would continue to engage in discussions on these topics with TCTA and other stakeholders. Read future TCTA eUpdates for the latest on the developing teacher evaluation system. See TEA’s timeline for implementation here.