This is the seventh post in our A Dozen Days, A Dozen Ways to Vote Your Profession series.
At issue: Evaluating teacher effectiveness is arguably the most popular education reform movement in the country right now. Critics of our state’s current teacher evaluation model, the Professional Development and Appraisal System (PDAS), complain that it labels too many teachers as proficient, fails to give them meaningful feedback on how to improve their job performance and lacks an emphasis on student achievement. During the last several legislative sessions, reformers have tried to replace the PDAS with an appraisal system based heavily on the student standardized test performance, despite the growing backlash against testing.
There is no magic tool for quickly and cheaply identifying great teachers: Evaluation reforms being pushed around the country center on the use of value-added modeling (VAM), a system of statistically analyzing students’ test scores over time in an attempt to measure growth in achievement or progress toward a particular target. Individual students’ performance data are then linked to their assigned teachers using state data systems. VAM has been touted as a simple, cost-effective way to measure the effectiveness of teachers, the schools in which they teach and even the educator preparation programs they attended before becoming teachers. However, studies indicate that VAM methodology is not reliable as a measure of individual teacher performance, and researchers have cautioned against using VAM calculations for purposes of high-stakes employment decisions such as teacher compensation or termination.
Changes are coming very soon to educator appraisal laws and rules: Evaluating educators on the basis of student performance is a major reform priority of President Obama’s administration. As a condition attached to the No Child Left Behind waiver granted to Texas last fall, the U.S. Department of Education has given the Texas commissioner of education a May 2014 deadline to develop a new state appraisal system that will include student growth as a “significant” factor in teacher evaluations. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is also developing a new principal evaluation system. With these new systems in development and set to be piloted in the coming school year, the 84th Legislature will undoubtedly be considering major changes to the appraisal laws in 2015. Not only is the design of an appraisal system critical, but also related concerns must be addressed, such as the training and selection of appraisers, the frequency of observations and evaluations, tying professional development to appraisal results, the use of appraisals in employment decisions, and the local costs of implementing a new appraisal system.
The people you elect to the Legislature this year will be making decisions about how teachers are evaluated and how those evaluations are used: It is imperative that educators elect candidates they can trust to make the right call on matters that will profoundly affect the profession as a whole and individual educators’ livelihoods. That is why ATPE asks hard questions of all legislative candidates, including whether a teacher’s evaluation should be based on student test scores and how teachers in subjects or grades with no state standardized test should be evaluated under such a system. Using our 2014 Races search tool to look up candidate profiles, you can find out how your candidates feel about using student test scores in teacher evaluations and look up incumbents’ voting record on a bill relating to teacher appraisal. (Look for “House Vote #4” and “Senate Vote #5” in the Voting Record section of the candidate’s profile.) There are only three days left for you to vote early, and Tuesday, March 4 is the primary election. Remember that many races will be decided by this March primary if there are no other candidates running in November. If you value your profession, vote your profession!