For months, TCTA urged TEA and the commissioner to delay implementation of the proposed teacher evaluation system. On May 14, 2014, TCTA had the opportunity to ask legislators to do the same when giving invited testimony before the Texas House Public Education Committee on teacher evaluation, working conditions and keeping good teachers in the profession.

Proposed teacher evaluation system

TCTA testimony first addressed the proposed teacher evaluation system on which TEA released details May 5. It makes student growth on state tests count for 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. Developing the new system was a condition of an agreement the Texas commissioner of education made with the U.S. Department of Education in order to secure a waiver from certain requirements of the NCLB.

TCTA's Holly Eaton told legislators that when the waiver negotiations changed course to become conditional (contingent on implementing the teacher evaluation requirements), there was no opportunity for public comment or formal stakeholder input. She also shared a list of reasons that the new system is problematic and likely to be challenged, just as a similar system is already being challenged in Houston ISD.

“By dictating details down to exactly how and how often a teacher must be evaluated, the U.S. Department of Education  is engaging in an unprecedented federal intrusion into local human resources practices, leaving the local districts to face the consequences — like Houston ISD did,” said Eaton.

She explained that Houston ISD voluntarily instituted a value-added model, EVAAS, which estimates a teacher's impact on student test performance (the same model TEA plans to use for the state evaluation system). The district now faces a lawsuit over the system.

In addition, Eaton pointed out that the implementation timelines to which the commissioner committed in the waiver agreement were likely unattainable, given that data from the 2014-15 pilot would not be available until as late as October 2015, three months after the system was originally scheduled to be fully implemented statewide in 2015-16. (Update: In July 2014, TEA announced it is seeking an additional year of piloting that will delay full implementation until 2016-17.)

She also testified that the weight of the research shows using value-added methods for evaluating teachers is invalid due to the instability of results over time, and because they rely solely on student performance on tests that were not designed for teacher evaluation.

Eaton called on legislators to delay making changes to state law that are needed to implement the new system and to send TEA back to the negotiating table with USDE to gain more flexibility in the teacher evaluation requirements like other states have done.

“Given the lack of broad-based stakeholder input into the waiver, the unrealistic timelines for implementing the teacher evaluation system under the waiver, the lack of research-based support for evaluating teachers based on student performance on state tests, and the dearth of vetted alternative measures of student learning available to use for teachers other than those teaching grades 5-9 reading and math, we recommend the Legislature delay taking action to implement the waiver’s teacher evaluation system requirements, and urge the commissioner to continue to negotiate for more flexibility in the waiver regarding the teacher evaluation requirements, as well as to seek an extension from USDE regarding the timeline under which to implement the new system,” Eaton testified.

Perhaps in response to some of the concerns articulated by TCTA and others, the commissioner of education sent a letter to House Public Education Committee members in advance of the hearing regarding his position on the teacher evaluation guidelines submitted to USDE. Read it here.

Improving teacher working conditions

Eaton also reported on the TELL Texas Survey of teaching and learning conditions, which educators may take until May 31. The anonymous, online survey of Texas teachers, principals, counselors and other school-based professional staff is required by a 2013 state law that that TCTA worked to get passed.

“Given that this is the first time that we are aware that the state has pursued a systematic, research-based method of gathering statewide data about these issues, we believe that every effort should be made to continue this initiative so that the state and local districts can make data-driven decisions about how to improve the facets of teacher working and student learning conditions over which they have control,” she testified.

Teacher retention

Eaton also testified that Texas’ approach to teacher induction has been a “patchwork of initiatives,” and the state could take an important leadership role by putting into place the framework for a comprehensive statewide induction program.