Eligible for floor debate today is SB 1403 by Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston), a bill that would give the commissioner of education broad authority to make the state’s fixation on standardized testing even worse. The bill pays lip service to the need for “multiple measures,” but a key provision gives the commissioner carte blanche to develop new performance criteria for teachers. Self-styled “reformers” lobbying with corporate backing for SB 1403 have made it clear “performance criteria” will mean a heavy emphasis in each teacher’s individual appraisal on the scores of a teacher’s students on standardized state tests, despite the lack of evidence that such evaluation systems are valid and useful.
We’ve seen this move before, in state and cities across the country. Texas can do better. Texas teachers would welcome real improvements in teacher evaluation, but this legislation neither provides those improvements nor establishes a sound process for designing those improvements.
SB 1403 would impose a top-down state teacher-evaluation scheme. It would do so without first conducting necessary local trials (pilot projects) to gauge which approaches to teacher evaluation produce the best results. The bill also does little or nothing to assure teacher involvement and buy-in as a new system is developed. SB 1403 puts the cart before the horse, the verdict before the evidence, authorizing imposition of a new statewide evaluation formula without first determining the best combination of options available for measuring a teacher’s work.
Teachers want to see an appraisal system based on evidence. An authoritative study by the Mathematica research center for the U.S. Department of Education found even the best “value-added models,” reliant on students’standardized test scores, are highly error-prone. With one year’s worth of achievement data, Mathematica researchers found, there was a one-in-three chance of misclassifying a teacher as a substandard performer.
SB 1403 also does not build evaluations into a process of continuous teacher improvement, though here again the bill pays lip service to the idea that improvement is the goal. Texas teachers would like to see a comprehensive approach to improving teacher effectiveness, using multiple, valid measures to identify potential improvements and providing teachers with the support needed to make those improvements in their professional practice. But SB 1403 does not even come close to providing this sort of comprehensive approach to evaluation and teacher improvement.
Call your senator immediately at 1-888-836-8368 to urge him/her to vote against SB 1403.