Renee Dailey is, by all accounts, a superb teacher. In the first of her 20 years teaching Texas history, she won the teacher of excellence award in her Austin school district. She went on to win the district’s teacher of the year award five times and recently received a fellowship to study at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
But under a proposal by the Texas commissioner of education, the Kealing Junior High School teacher’s annual professional evaluation would not be based on her 7th grade students’ performance on standardized tests. Rather, her review would be influenced by the scores posted by all students at Kealing.
“I think it’s quite unfair,” Dailey says. “In education, there are teachers, and then there are teachers. I should not be affected by what someone else does not do.”
Two of the four groups representing teachers in Texas are echoing her complaints and opposing the commissioner’s plan, which, if districts adopt, would be the first in the nation to hold individual teachers accountable for their schools’ standings. In fact, only a few states—Kansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee, among them—link teacher evaluations to student achievement at all, according to the Education Commission of the States, a state-policy clearinghouse in Denver.
Texas commissioner of education Mike Moses is touting his plan as a sensible way to satisfy a 1995 state law requiring that student performance be included in teacher evaluations. The state’s 1,044 school districts can adopt the commissioner’s plan or design an alternative by next fall. Dallas has already selected an evaluation system that considers classroom, not schoolwide, scores on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills, also known as TAAS. Children in grades 3 through 8 in Texas take the exam, and high school students must pass it to get their diplomas.
Moses says he opted for schoolwide scores because the old system, which considered classroom test scores, incited dispiriting competition among teachers. “My interest is to encourage as much collaboration as possible between teachers,” Moses says. “I want to create a little bit of awareness among teachers about how all students on a campus are performing.”
The commissioner emphasizes that under his plan schoolwide performance on the standardized test would be only one of 52 factors used to evaluate a teacher’s performance and could not by itself derail a career. Other factors include school attendance and dropout rates.
Teachers nationwide have long resisted proposals to evaluate them using student test data. That such a tiny fraction of the proposed teacher evaluation in Texas could provoke such a big fracas underscores just how controversial the idea is.
“I think it’s degrading to judge teachers on the TAAS scores,” says 4th grade teacher Evelyn Malone, a member of the Texas State Teachers Association, the largest teachers’ union in the state. “We have a lot of turnover in my school, and I’ll get new kids in February that will take the test in March. Should I be blamed if they don’t do well?”
John O’Sullivan, an officer of the Texas Federation of Teachers, a 26,000-member union, is urging districts to choose evaluations that don’t rely on TAAS scores but on end-of-course exams and homework. “Those are more appropriate means of measuring student performance,” O’Sullivan says. “Otherwise, it’s a bit like a teacher standing in front of a class and telling Johnny in the front row that his grade will be based on how the whole class does.”