The Teach the Vote Interview:
ATPE Members Serving on the Texas Teacher Standards and Evaluation Steering Committee
Last year the Texas Education Agency (TEA) appointed a steering committee of educators to provide input on new teacher standards and a new evaluation system. This is the first of a three-part interview with some of the ATPE members serving on that committee.
TEACH THE VOTE: DESCRIBE THE PURPOSE AND GOALS OF THE STEERING COMMITTEE.
Jeremy Wagner: “The committee was put together to revamp the teacher standards and teacher evaluation system for the State of Texas. Under the NCLB waiver, two of the requirements were to change the standards and the teacher evaluation tool. My role was to represent my region of the state and my content area as a teacher on the committee to ensure that the standards and evaluation tool were fair, honest and met the expectations of as many stakeholders as possible.”
Libbie Payne: “The purpose of our committee was to bring our knowledge and skills to the table to help generate a model of an effective teacher and the behaviors this kind of teacher would exhibit. What qualities would an effective teacher possess? How would an effective teacher’s classroom be organized? How would the learning environment be structured? What professional practices would be modeled by an effective teacher? Furthermore, it was our purpose to determine and define how to judge a teacher’s effectiveness through an evaluation system that would encourage all teachers, not just the beginning teacher, to grow professionally. In a nutshell our purpose was to describe a new vision of teaching that would transform education in Texas by encouraging systemic reform to meet the needs of Texas learners.”
TEACH THE VOTE: TELL US ABOUT THE NEW TEACHING STANDARDS THAT THE COMMITTEE HELPED CREATE.
Carlos Diaz-Rivera Jr.: “The new teaching standards were developed with everyone’s input and belief in what the teacher of the 21st century must look like. The teacher of the 21st century must grow through self-reflection, collaboration, feedback and professional development.”
Wagner: “I think the new teaching standards are a big step in improving the previous standards. These standards are well-rounded, serve as a platform to turn the current system from a ‘gotcha’ to a growth tool, and help ensure that quality education is at the core of what teachers are doing for the students of Texas. … As they sit, it is hard to say if I would change anything [about the standards] because they are so new. That is the benefit of having a year to pilot the new standards and evaluation system.”
Wiggins: “ATPE posted a draft of the new standards on TeachtheVote.org, and one educator posted a comment saying, ‘What’s the big deal, these standards are what good teachers already do!’ That’s when I knew we had created something special.”
Payne: “I am thrilled with the final product. I believe the new Texas Teaching Standards clearly represent the kind of teacher we want Texas teachers to aspire to be. The standards are designed to promote teacher growth that occurs through self-reflection, feedback and professional development. They were crafted to serve as a support tool designed to improve instruction from the beginning teacher to the veteran teacher. They are thorough in their scope, and they address the increasingly complex and sophisticated demands for contemporary teaching practices that will ensure Texas learners receive quality instruction that builds a class of citizens who are strong in their knowledge and skills but who have also developed the ability to think critically, work collaboratively and solve contemporary problems. Our desire was to develop a model Texas teachers would embrace, and one that would promote the development of Texans who will continue to lead us to the future and the challenges it poses.”
TEACH THE VOTE: IS THERE REALLY A NEED TO CHANGE THE STATE-RECOMMENDED APPRAISAL SYSTEM NOW, AND IF SO, WHY?
Payne: “Successful corporations, businesses, organizations and individuals are reflective and continually self-assessing. They are dynamic in nature and committed to supplying the products and services consumers, their customers, need and want. In order to meet the needs of our customers, the students and their families in the great state of Texas, it was time for our state to review teaching practices and the standards that need to exist for our students to receive the quality of instruction that they need, deserve and that is reflective of the demands that are present in an ever changing global economy. … I don’t think [the reason for changing the appraisal system] was ever soundly addressed [by TEA officials overseeing the committee]. I think that we, the committee, were keenly aware that the status quo needed to improve, and I believe we all took it as our challenge and the charge of the committee.”
Diaz-Rivera Jr.: “I feel that the reason to change the appraisal system came from the need and input that PDAS was not as effective as it could be. With the new appraisal, the teacher and evaluator will have a more effective tool that develops the teacher and that allows for more growth.”
Wiggins: “We need to change educator evaluation from a system that has been regarded as a ‘gotcha’ or a ‘dog and pony show’ to one of constant and continuous feedback to improve instruction by focusing on student achievement at the campus level with all stakeholders.”
Wagner: “There’s been a need for an update [to the appraisal system] for a lot of years and the NCLB waiver was a sort of catalyst to get the ball going.”
TEACH THE VOTE: THE STATE RECEIVED AN NCLB WAIVER CONDITIONED ON ITS PROMISE TO CHANGE TEACHER EVALUATIONS. WHAT ROLE DID THE NCLB WAIVER PLAY IN YOUR COMMITTEE’S WORK?
Payne: “The TEA officials did not specifically discuss the state’s NCLB waiver, and it was only superficially addressed as one or two of our committee members asked pointed questions about the waiver. I never thought of our mission as a method to deal with a compliance issue but as a genuine goal to improve teaching and learning in classrooms across the state. Frankly, I am unaware of what the waiver includes, and glad that our work was not represented as an alternative to NCLB requirements. We genuinely endeavored to build a model that would improve the quality of teaching and learning in Texas classrooms. It was only when we began to address the appraisal rubric and scoring matrix in some of our last meetings that I realized our ultimate goal was to develop a tool the U.S. Department of Education would accept. I think the facilitators purposefully excluded that information so that our work would be genuinely true to developing a sound and positive tool to facilitate teacher professional growth and improvement rather than supporting a compliance demand.”
Diaz-Rivera Jr.: “We never discussed provisions of the waiver.”
Wagner: “It is what it is. The stipulations for receiving the waiver were set [by the federal government] and we had to agree to them or not follow through with the waiver. Do I like every part of it? Not with the state assessments being as high stakes as they are. I think there needs to be a pretty big shift in assessment to make the portion of the waiver that requires student test performance to be part of the evaluation system as fair as possible. That, however, was not part of what we were put together to discuss or change. We made a teacher evaluation tool and teacher standards. The testing itself is perhaps for another committee that I’d love to be a part of one day.”
TEACH THE VOTE: WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE EXISTING STATE-RECOMMENDED EVALUATION SYSTEM, PDAS?
Wagner: “PDAS got turned into something that accepts and even promotes compliance and checklist-style evaluations with little to no feedback, and is generally not used as a growth tool. It’s turned into a ‘gotcha’ and isn’t about finding issues and fixing them so the teacher can improve.”
Diaz-Rivera Jr.: “PDAS lacked the opportunities for growth and was used as a punitive tool. It did not provide opportunities for dialogue. The conversations that needed to happen weren’t happening. With the new appraisal, the teacher and evaluator will have a more effective tool that develops the teacher and that allows for more growth.”
Payne: “In its current format, I see PDAS as somewhat punitive with little depth or substance for improving teaching practices. It is not very constructive in that it does not suggest specific strategies for a teacher’s growth. The overall scoring does little more than place a grade on a teacher’s practices when I believe it should be a tool that helps a teacher recognize and capitalize on specific strengths and endeavor to improve by setting personal goals and seeking professional development in identified areas of weakness. It concerns me that the self-assessment tool, pre-observation conferences and summative conferences have not been emphasized in PDAS. I believe these are the strong points of the current system, and they should be utilized to promote collaboration and cooperation between observers and instructors.”
TEACH THE VOTE: TELL US YOUR THOUGHTS ON LOCAL CONTROL WHEN IT COMES TO EVALUATIONS. SHOULD SCHOOL DISTRICTS HAVE THE AUTHORITY TO DECIDE HOW THEY WILL EVALUATE THEIR TEACHERS, OR SHOULD EVALUATION CRITERIA BE DETERMINED BY THE STATE OR FEDERAL GOVERNMENT?
Diaz-Rivera Jr.: “In Texas, local education agencies (LEAs) should decide what system to use. The LEA knows the community, the needs and the expectations it wants.”
Payne: “I believe that the local school districts know their unique needs better than anyone else, but to promote quality across the state, a system that offers a framework [for teacher appraisals] must be provided. This would allow individual school districts to tailor the system to their individual needs and give them the flexibility and control to address them. One size does not fit all. I do not support the U.S. Congress adoption of a teacher appraisal to be used throughout the nation. States are better prepared to address their own needs. ”
Wagner: “Even under current law this is a local decision. It will still be a local decision. The only thing that is different for districts that decide to not adopt the state system is that they must develop their own [evaluation systems] that meet certain minimum requirements. The state system is developed through a joint effort with the Commissioner of Education’s office, TEA and stakeholders around the state.”
TEACH THE VOTE: WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT THING NEEDED TO MAKE A NEW EVALUATION SYSTEM MEANINGFUL AND VALUABLE TO TEACHERS?
Wagner: “Feedback. More feedback. Still more feedback after that. Teachers need it to grow. The state has done its part in this regard. We’ve made a tool, with the state’s assistance, which builds in feedback as a more crucial part of the evaluation system. We’ve also tried to make it so that it was as evidence-based as possible and has room for growth for all teachers, not just new teachers or teachers on growth plans. At this stage, the only thing further the state can do is ensure that training is delivered in such a way that the appraisers understand the purpose and follow through with fidelity to the evaluation rubric.”
Diaz-Rivera Jr.: “The incorporation of tools that allow for more teacher reflections, opportunities for growth, developing lesson plans that take into consideration students’ needs and growth, and dialogues between the teacher and the evaluator.”
Payne: “First, and most importantly, the new system must be carefully assessed and evaluated by the districts that have volunteered to pilot it. Their feedback, subsequent review of the system that has been developed, and any needed modifications will ensure that the new system performs as the steering committee hoped it would. It was our intent to design and produce a workable system that would be embraced by all because of the results it encouraged and ultimately produced. As our work is introduced to educators across the state, I believe it is imperative that the system is introduced as a tool to help teachers reflect on their own teaching practices while affording them the opportunity to grow professionally as student learning and growth is promoted. So often, evaluations and appraisals are viewed as punitive rather than constructive in nature. Teachers need to know that the new teaching standards and accompanying measurement tools were developed and designed to help them improve as teachers, to encourage them to set goals for professional growth, and ultimately to deliver quality lessons that meet the needs of the learners in their classrooms. I believe that if they embrace the new tools as such they will be more satisfied with the work they do in their classrooms. The presentation and introduction of these tools must reflect the notion that these were developed and refined for teachers by teachers.”
Stoebe: “I think the most important step that can be taken in making these new appraisals meaningful and valuable is to get the message across that the tool is not to be a ‘gotcha’ or a ‘gold star,’ but rather a method to encourage constant professional growth.”
TEACH THE VOTE: WHAT RESOURCES WILL DISTRICTS NEED TO IMPLEMENT A NEW TEACHER EVALUATION SYSTEM?
Wagner: “The answer here would be funding. To make the frequency of observations that I would recommend become feasible, we need to train other teachers to evaluate teachers to relieve some of the pressure from principals. This will require additional conference periods for teacher-evaluators, which in turn will require more staff to fill in conference periods, training costs and potentially a modest pay increase for teachers who accept the larger responsibility of evaluating their peers. Schools will need more money to make that happen—not just reallocated money due to a mandate that says, ‘you’re not getting more, but you still have to make it work.’”
Diaz-Rivera Jr.: “Do school districts currently have sufficient resources to implement the type of teacher evaluations I would recommend? No. What additional resources are needed? Evaluators as well as teacher leaders should be effectively trained.”
Payne: “I would hope [districts have sufficient resources to implement new teacher evaluations]. Like the old PDAS, a teacher observation would still be required; however, a new evaluation rubric would be used. The measurement of student growth would be the most significant change based on the system that I believe TEA will submit to the Commissioner. The evaluation rubric focuses on contemporary teaching strategies, student needs that have changed with the times, implementation of technology, more emphasis on critical thinking and problem solving along with a shift from a quantitative to qualitative teacher role where the teacher moves from being a director to a facilitator or collaborator, where students are taking more ownership for their learning and questioning each other about their learning. If we are to implement the measurement of student growth in untested grades and courses, and measure student growth by substituting alternative methods such as SLOs, portfolios, or district-created tests, guidelines for these measurements along with staff development to implement them will be required. Training for observers/evaluators and staff development for all teachers [are additional resources needed].”