Background

When Texas secured a conditional waiver from NCLB requirements in late 2013, one of the contingencies for keeping the waiver was for Texas to submit to US Department of Education (USDE) guidelines for a state teacher evaluation system that met the requirements set out in the NCLB waiver:

  • Inclusion of student achievement growth (student performance on state tests for teachers of tested subjects) as a significant factor (i.e. at least 20%) in teacher evaluations;
  • Requiring districts using locally developed systems to include student growth on state tests for individual teachers’ evaluations; and
  • Ensuring that local districts use teacher evaluation results to make personnel decisions.

Texas' NCLB waiver, which is good through the end of the 2014-15 school year, allows Texas school districts to be exempt from federal AYP requirements and to have flexibility with 20% of their Title I funds regarding supplemental educational services for students.

The Texas Education Agency developed the guidelines for the proposed evaluation system based on recommendations from a state-level teacher advisory committee on which TCTA participated* and TEA submitted the guidelines to USDE in May 2014. TEA subsequently submitted revised guidelines to USDE in Sept. 2014 extending the pilot period for an additional year, through the 2015-2016 school year, with full implementation in the 2016-17 school year.  

*Although TCTA participated on the committee, TCTA strongly opposed the USDE’s heavy-handed dictates that the evaluation guidelines include student performance on state standardized tests as the measure to evaluate teachers, rather than allowing local districts to decide, and that student growth be determined at the individual teacher level rather than at the group or campus level.

Guidelines rejected

On January 7, 2015, USDE sent a letter informing TEA that USDE was unable to approve the teacher evaluation system guidelines submitted by TEA, saying "...Texas has not yet adopted guidelines for teacher and principal evaluation and support systems that meet all requirements of ESEA flexibility, nor does it have a process for ensuring that each district in Texas develops, adopts, pilots, and implements teacher and principal evaluation and support systems consistent with those guidelines as required by ESEA flexibility."

According to TEA, USDE's concerns about Texas' proposed teacher evaluation system guidelines are centered around four areas:

  • Evaluations should occur annually;
  • The state should have a state-mandated evaluation system with minimum thresholds and top-down specificity (which Texas does not have and has not historically done, preferring to leave as much flexibility for local districts to develop systems that meet their local needs);
  • The state should have a system in place to ensure that all districts adopt and implement with fidelity a teacher evaluation system consistent with waiver requirements; and
  • Specified state directions regarding how evaluation results should be used by local districts to inform personnel decisions.

TCTA has consistently maintained - in testimony to legislative committees, in statements to the media, and in giving input to TEA - that many of the teacher evaluation requirements of the NCLB waiver are not allowable under current law, are not supported by the research, and run counter to Texas' interest in reducing high-stakes testing.

In his press release about the USDE response, Commissioner of Education Michael Williams stated "I have always made it clear to federal officials that as part of the waiver process, TEA could not exceed its current authority nor would we do anything to erode our state's strong commitment to local control in public education. My position on this front has not, and will not, change."

Since the deadline for states to seek waiver renewals from USDE is March 31, 2015, TEA plans to continue to engage in conversation with USDE in an attempt to get enough specificity regarding what Texas would have to do to meet USDE approval for the teacher evaluation guidelines in order to decide whether to seek a waiver renewal. TEA will also seek feedback from stakeholders (including TCTA) and state and legislative leaders in order to inform the decision about whether to pursue a waiver renewal. TCTA intends to stay actively involved in any developments and will continue to advocate in our members' best interests.