ATPE files T-TESS legal challenge, asserts that new evaluation rules violate state law

ThinkstockPhotos-487217874_breakingThe state’s largest educator association is filing a petition today with the Texas Commissioner of Education legally challenging his recent adoption of rules creating a new state-recommended teacher appraisal system. The Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE) asserts that Commissioner Mike Morath’s rules for the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS) violate state laws and the Texas Constitution and are contrary to public policy.

View a copy of ATPE’s press release here. Below is additional background information about the legal challenge.

State laws call for the commissioner to recommend a system for annual teacher appraisals with certain criteria, but school districts are allowed to adopt their own appraisal systems instead and are also permitted to evaluate some experienced teachers less frequently. In challenging the new T-TESS rules, ATPE contends that the commissioner has mandated certain actions that exceed what state law requires for teacher evaluations and has improperly limited the local discretion school districts are afforded under the Texas Education Code. The new rules also restrict teachers’ ability to request a second appraisal, which is a right ATPE says teachers are entitled to by law.

The commissioner’s rules require that all teachers participate in certain elements of the appraisal process every year, despite exemptions that are carved out in state law allowing less-than-annual evaluations for some veteran teachers who have not shown job-related deficiencies. The evaluation components in the new rules that are required every year also include a controversial new student growth measure. Commissioner Morath is requiring all teachers to be evaluated based on student growth, and recommending value-added measures (VAM) as one of four such evaluation components in the new rules. ATPE believes VAM amounts to “junk science,” as its attorneys contend in the petition filed today.


Jennifer Canaday

‘VAM attempts to use complex statistical calculations on students’ standardized test scores in previous years to predict how well a student should perform on future tests; the resulting test performance of an individual student – not accounting for myriad outside factors – is supposed to magically show whether that student’s most recent teacher was effective or not,” said ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday. “At best, VAM is an estimate or projection of a possible outcome. We are very disappointed that the commissioner is endorsing this complicated, extremely limited, assessment-based guesswork as a reliable and definitive formula for measuring a teacher’s value.”

Numerous academicians and researchers have questioned the reliability and validity of VAM, especially for use in high-stakes decisions, including the American Statistical Association, which warned that VAM has several significant limitations. ATPE has long questioned the fairness and efficacy of using VAM for teacher evaluations, particularly when the vast majority of teachers teach subjects or grade levels that have no state standardized tests and most policymakers have expressed a desire to place less emphasis on standardized tests.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has even acknowledged some of the drawbacks of VAM and maintains that it should be used to provide feedback to teachers within a formative appraisal process. In its “TEA Student Growth Overview — January 2016,” the agency wrote that VAM scores don’t account for teacher behaviors, since they are derived solely from test scores, and they provide feedback that is “less insightful at the instructional level.” ATPE points out that while VAM might potentially provide some limited feedback to a small group of teachers about how well their students are performing on tests, the difficulty with incorporating VAM into teacher appraisals lies in how schools are actually using those appraisals.

“If T-TESS were merely a formative tool to help teachers grow, we’d be having a different discussion,” notes Canaday. “However, schools are using T-TESS and similar appraisal systems to make high-stakes decisions about teacher compensation and employment. When teachers’ paychecks and contracts are dependent on the outcome of these appraisals, the validity and integrity of the appraisal process matters greatly.”

Canaday explains that to avoid having two discrete evaluation systems in use at the same time, most school districts employ only one appraisal system, and the majority of districts will opt to use the state-recommended model rather than developing their own. The problem with incorporating elements that TEA might expect districts to use as formative tools, such as VAM, is that the same evaluation instrument is being used for summative scoring of teachers and then making high-stakes employment-related decisions based on those evaluations scores.

“There’s a big difference,” Canaday says, “between districts saying, ‘This is an instrument that might provide slightly beneficial feedback to you as a teacher of a tested subject,’ and telling teachers, ‘This is the instrument that will be used to determine whether you still have a job next year.’”

TEA began developing T-TESS in conjunction with its request for a waiver of federal accountability requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). In 2013, the Obama administration offered Texas its requested flexibility in exchange for a promise to adopt a new teacher evaluation system that places more emphasis on student growth measures. T-TESS was designed to fit the parameters of the NCLB waiver and has been piloted in several school districts around the state ahead of its full implementation during the next two school years. In December, Congress repealed NCLB and replaced it with new federal law, making the conditions attached to the state’s old NCLB waiver no longer a concern. ATPE and individual educators involved in the development of T-TESS urged the commissioner to reconsider the design of the system in light of the recent changes in federal law, but Morath has moved forward with rolling out the new T-TESS rules as previously planned. The final rules were adopted this month and are scheduled to take effect in July, although the student growth elements of T-TESS are not required to be used until the 2017-18 school year.

“At a time when the federal government has taken important steps to decrease the focus on testing, there are widespread reports of flaws in the testing system, and parents are increasingly opting their children out of taking the tests, it makes no sense that Texas policymakers keep looking to test scores to determine if students, teachers, and schools are making the grade,” says Canaday.

ATPE_At_the_Capitol_VerticalThe Texas Education Code provides a mechanism for appeals of agency actions to the commissioner, who has primary jurisdiction under state law, after which point a lawsuit may be brought in district court if necessary. ATPE hopes that Commissioner Morath will take necessary steps to revise the T-TESS rules to comply with state laws, ensure that all teachers are evaluated fairly, and recommend a transparent and easily understood appraisal process that truly helps teachers improve their skills in the classroom.

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20 thoughts on “ATPE files T-TESS legal challenge, asserts that new evaluation rules violate state law

  1. Karen Hames

    I am so pleased to see ATPE filing suit against T-TESS. I’ve always compared these kinds of assessments to dental checkups: if I don’t brush my teeth, the dentist doesn’t get blamed for my cavities, yet teachers get blamed for circumstances beyond their control all the time. Keep up the good work.

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  3. Imelda Hernandez

    My concern is for special education teachers, whose students are already at least two years below grade level. It saddens me, when administrators compare student test scores with other campus test scores. I understand individual growth, however when a special Ed group in a grade level is monitored for mastery, I see a major problem taking place. IEPs are in place for a reason, another federal law! When SpEd teachers and the general Ed teachers are collaboratively planning and accommodations are being followed, and student performance shows individual growth compared to last week , last month or last year and are still penalized and placed in Tier 2s or Tier 3s because their class did not meet the class or grade level scores of 70, 80, 90 or 100% mastery, there is a definite problem! Thank you, ATPE for always protecting in the right to teach!

    1. Kaye

      DonI have to attend a summative when I have not been provided a digital or paper copy of my observation and I have had to request my pre and post observations as well as asked for a date for my evaluation. I asked a week ago for a copy of my evaluation and nothing has been filled into my Strive account.


  4. Barbara Lien

    Texas has an educator shortage, If you want good teachers, educators, mentors, coaches, and people who love working for the betterment of children to stay in the classroom, then let us have a say, too.

  5. V. Saldana

    After 22 years of service in a district, the T-TESS evaluation by my appraiser was used to have me tender my resignation or have a nonrenewal of contract on my record. After receiving wonderful evaluations in the past (22 years only 1 bad evaluation) and now this. I’m happy to see that something is being done. Other veteran teachers were given the same type of poor evaluation and they resigned at this district, or retired because of T-TESS evaluation this school year.

    1. Mike

      My wife is a five year elementary music teacher and her principal, who knows nothing of her job gave her a poor informal and placed her on an improvement plan.. HR said he can do a plan at anytime he feels.. funny how it’s contract year.. Garland I.S.D. is horrific!!!

  6. Kelli Kieth

    How are teachers in non-tested areas going to be evaluated? With testing being placed so late in the year and scores not in until the last week of school or after, how will evaluations be finalized? I’m strongly opposed to this aspect being placed in our evaluations. I love the analogy above: If I go to the dentist and have cavities because I haven’t brushed my teeth the dentist doesn’t get blamed. Texas is going to continue to loose more and more great teachers if things do not turn around!

  7. rebecca ciprian-moreno

    Thank you, thank you, thank you ATPE!!!! Finally! Someone cares about real teachers, real teaching, real students and REAL life!! Absolutely–“if I don’t brush my teeth, the dentist does not get blamed!!!!”

  8. gdk

    WOW!! Go ATPE. Over the last few years I have been wondering if Texas teachers have an advocate. Until now, I have not had any evidence suggesting we did. Thank you ATPE.
    It would seem like school boards, state representatives, and even the Governor would proudly advocate for classroom teachers. Sadly, I have not seen or heard evidence of advocacy unless silence counts. I love teaching. I am starting my 18th year. I wish there were more teachers who had more experience than I do on campuses. Most of the teachers I notice now have only 1-3 years experience. Where are all those veteran teachers who led the profession? I guess they retired. Teacher salaries are low. Teacher blame is high. Academic freedom is low. The number of people who make the most money while seldom EVER interacting with a student on a daily basis is higher than ever. When I learned that some higher ups believe “the biggest problem in education today is getting those darn teachers to do what they are supposed to do..” I almost got sick. God Bless the classroom teachers who are dumped on year after year after year in so many direct and indirect ways. They do the job that so many of the highest CANNOT do or WILL NOT do. If you are a politician, consultant, high level administrator, school board member, parent, please come sub at your school in Texas. Or better yet work full-time. But now do not just come for a day or a week. You really need to stay at least one entire semester in order to get a feel for it. Cover lunch duty and monitor the hall. The upside to doing this will be that you will be making more money than you are right now, right? Every single year is harder than the year before it for the classroom teacher. More and more work with less and less pay. More and more blame with less and less authority. I would certainly respect my critics more if they were actually in the arena instead of Monday morning quarterbacking so much. This is what the whole appraisal system is about. After you teach, someone comes along and tells you what you should have done and of course how you should have done it better. I hope I can keep teaching a very long time.
    Thank you ATPE.

    1. Sail Walker

      Wow, GDK! You are certainly a teacher after my own heart. Although I may be wrong, from your diligence in writing, I am taking a guess that you are an ELAR teacher. The experiences and concerns that you mention in your post resonate with me and my teaching experience as well. I notice that you are posting at 5:28 a.m. in the morning, and I can only imagine that time to be your “teacher” biological clock from the practice of completing lessons/grading papers at that time. I applaud you on posting what definitely needs to be voiced by teachers on all platforms. While I am not a member of ATPE, as an educator, I am thankful that they are stepping up to the plate to take action on this issue. Someone else mentioned the unfavorable plight of veteran teachers. Having been in education for more than twenty-four years, I, too, hope that a change, in our favor, comes soon! Thank you for your post.

  9. J. Annette

    Outside of the special education factors and the attachment of scores to appraisal. I am also dismayed that the TTESS that my district implemented requires 7.5 hours of MY off duty time to be devoted to improving, which we are being required to join a PLC to do so. This is just to receive a proficient rating. If we miss one due to an appointment, then we must make it up. This is against our contracts is it not, to be required to stay after without pay?

  10. Debbie Gossett

    Today I experienced by first post-conference evaluation.
    First a little background. I am a 13 year teacher, I teach art at a elementary school. I work hard to make sure we meet our TEKS and the lessons for 500 students is meaningful and fun. My past evaluations have been above average.
    Coming back to this years process of T-TESS. A appointment was made for the pre-conference which ended up being reschedule 4 times before it happened. A scheduled appointment was made for the actually observation was made only to be rescheduled once again 4 times before taking place. Then the post conference, scheduled 12 days after the observation happened but was “on schedule”.
    Under the current system and my administration my evaluation is less than impressive. I earned 1 proficient, 8 developing, and 3 needing improvement. One of the needing improvements(np) was due to a pre-conference remark. When asked what was one of my weaknesses I responded adjusting the lesson for those who struggle. Differentiation was marked np. The other np was learning my students better and meeting their needs. I teach 500 students. I know them pretty well and I know those students who will struggle. I assist those students on a as needed bases as I do all my students.
    My admin. has visited my room with 2 walk-ins and the observation this year.
    Under the new appraisal system I have never felt so disappointed and like a failure. I am one that will knock myself out to do what ever is needed when I know my effort is acknowledged and I feel appreciated. This evaluation does not acknowledge all the is done for the students, nor make the “want to do more” happen. Actually the total opposite.
    For all that is required and for all that is not required of teachers but they do them because it is the right thing to do, there is no acknowledgement of appreciation or credit for exceeding the requirements of the job in T-TESS.
    T-TESS is a dog and pony show.

  11. Evelyn

    My story us similiar to the story above. My 45 minute observation was on Feb. 14th. I filed a greivance Jan 27. 6 pages, 70 pages of evidence. Can an appraiser evaluate a teacher while being investigated for a grievance filed by the teacher. I was. Surprise, i need alot of developing. Time as a teacher, 13 years. Prior evaluations, ee.

  12. Pingback: ATPE settles lawsuit over state’s teacher evaluation system | Teach the Vote

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