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Will Texas' New Teacher Evaluation System Rely Too Much on Test Scores?

Nathan Bernier/KUT

Members of the Texas House Committee on Public Education are wrestling with how to evaluate teacher performance in modern classrooms. And while educators and administrators agree the current system needs overhauling, there's little agreement on what will replace it.

In advance of today's hearing, Texas Education Agency Commissioner Michael Williams said in a letter that current teacher evaluation criteria – the Professional Development and Appraisal System (PDAS) – has "outlived its usefulness."

Patty Hill, a math teacher at Austin's Kealing Middle School, agrees. She told lawmakers today she’s afraid that by adopting a “flipped classroom” model – posting lectures online for students to view at home, and working collaboratively on 'homework' in the classroom – she is opening herself up for negative evaluations.

"As a teacher when I flipped, I was actually really worried because if you read the PDAS standards, you know, its all teacher-teacher-teacher," she said. "If you follow that strictly I'm a horribly rated teacher, but if you actually listen to my kids talk and do mathematics, it's brilliant."

The TEA plans to roll out a new evaluation system in the 2014-2015 school year, the Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS). The agency hopes the system will eventually replace PDAS, which has been used since 1997. But the proposal has been met with resistance from educators like Carl Hooker, director of instructional technology at Eanes ISD.

"I think there is some danger in placing a lot of value on a metric that is basically an autopsy of what the student has learned – not only that year, but every year prior to that," Hooker said. "So you're judging that teacher, plus the teacher before them, plus the teacher before them."

But Commissioner Williams says only 20 percent of the total evaluation will be based on a measure that considers test scores. And because not all teachers teach students and subjects that are tested, he estimates only 25 percent of teachers will be evaluated on test scores at all.

Still, Chrysta Carlin, principal at Alamo Colleges-Memorial Early College High School in Comal ISD, told lawmakers that she thinks portfolio models are a better indicator of student growth than test scores.

"Having any assessment of the teacher based on just one test that the student is taking is not a good, well-rounded valued assessment of the teacher," Carlin said.

Right now, PDAS is a voluntary assessment used by districts, and districts have the freedom to choose alternative forms of teacher assessment. But because the new evaluation is part of the state's application for a waiver from federal No Child Left Behind standards, some worry that it will become mandatory for districts. 

Chairman Williams' letter acknowledged that to maintain that waiver, there must be mandatory assessment guidelines for all Texas school districts. But he added "I cannot and will not try to require all districts to adopt the state system or one that exceeds its requirements without legislative action."

It remains unclear how the U.S. Department of Education will treat Texas when considering the waiver – and whether Texas lawmakers will approve a mandatory statewide teacher assessment system.

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