With federal legislation to replace the No Child Left Behind Act stalled for now, Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams continues to pursue a federal waiver of some of NCLB’s onerous mandates. These include the pie-in-the-sky demand that by next year 100 percent of students at every campus must achieve test scores demonstrating proficiency. By that unrealistic standard, nearly all Texas campuses soon will be deemed low-performing.
However, the U.S. Department of Education says any exemption from NCLB’s statutory demands hinges on the state’s acceptance of a new set of the department’s own administrative edicts. Prominent among the department’s waiver conditions is the establishment of new evaluation policies giving heavy emphasis to the scores of a teacher’s students on standardized state tests.
Therein lies a problem for Commissioner Williams, because current Texas law does not authorize the state to order school districts to make students’ scores on standardized tests a significant factor in the evaluation of individual teachers. In fact, the legislature has been asked repeatedly to decree such use of standardized test scores for evaluations and has declined to do so. That was the right thing to do, considering the lack of any cogent evidence for the validity of this practice.
Nonetheless, the commissioner and his staff at the Texas Education Agency now have produced a final waiver request revealing plans to push state policy a long way in the direction of test-based teacher appraisal. Here are some of the pertinent specifics we have gleaned from the final version of the TEA waiver request to federal officials published August 28:
- TEA vows to develop and adopt new guidelines for local teacher appraisal and support systems.
- A “holistic” state system including “multiple measures of teacher performance…will be developed, piloted, refined and implemented statewide over the next three school years.”‘
- Teacher evaluation will include use of “student achievement growth as a significant measure.”
- TEA assures the feds that teacher evaluation “systems will use valid measures in determining performance levels.” In the next breath the waiver request states that TEA “is currently developing and piloting various tools (including value-added measures, new observation rubrics, and campus climate surveys) to accurately measure the performance of teachers and principals.”
- The waiver request says TEA’s “timeline includes the development of these tools during the 2013-2014 school year and piloting in 40 school districts in the 2014-2015 school year. Following the final year of piloting, TEA will undertake the task of updating rules to reflect a new, holistic system that includes all of the components with statewide rollout of the new evaluation system to begin in the 2015-2016 school year.”
- TEA also notes it has projects already under way to develop new Texas teaching standards and “both a campus-wide and individual teacher value-added metric.” An upcoming Hotline message will take a closer look at these regulatory projects and will note opportunities for teachers and other school employees to have a say in their development.