Texas Proposal Ties Teacher Performance to School Scores

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Renee Dailey is, by all accounts, a superb teacher. In the first of her 20 years of teaching Texas history, she won the "teacher of excellence" award in her Austin school district. She went on to win the "teacher of the year" district award five times and recently received a fellowship to study at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

But under a proposal by the Texas commissioner of education, the Kealing Junior High School teacher's annual professional evaluation would be partly based not on the wonders she works in her 7th grade classroom, but on schoolwide standardized-test scores, attendance, and dropout rates.

"I think it's quite unfair," Ms. Dailey said. "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 cry and opposing the commissioner's plan, which would be the first in the nation to hold teachers accountable for their schools' standings. In fact, only a few states, including Kansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee, link teacher assessments to student achievement at all, according to the Education Commission of the States, a state-policy clearinghouse in Denver.

Commissioner Mike Moses is touting his plan as a sensible way to satisfy a 1995 state law that requires that teacher evaluations take student performance into account. Mr. Moses emphasized that schoolwide performance on standardized tests is only one of 52 factors that would be used to determine a teacher's appraisal and could not alone derail a career.

"My interest is to encourage as much collaboration as possible between teachers," Mr. Moses said last week. "I want to create a little bit of awareness among teachers about how all students on a campus are performing."

Option for Districts

That such a tiny fraction of the proposed evaluation process provoked such a big fracas symbolizes the continuing national debate over how standardized tests gauge students' skills and influence coursework. Children in grades 3 through 8 take the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills exam, and high school students must pass it to get their diplomas.

"The TAAS is already out of control, and we don't want to ratchet it up another notch," said Richard Kouri, the president of the Texas State Teachers Association, the largest teachers' union in the state and an affiliate of the National Education Association. "The test is not driving the curriculum; it is the curriculum."

"I think it's degrading to judge teachers on the TAAS scores," said 4th grade teacher Evelyn Malone, a TSTA member. "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?"

The state's 1,044 school districts face the option of adopting the commissioner's plan or designing an alternative by the next school year. Dallas has already chosen an evaluation system that considers classroom, not schoolwide, scores on the TAAS.

John O'Sullivan, an officer of the Texas Federation of Teachers, a 26,000-member union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, is urging districts to choose evaluations that don't rely on the TAAS but on end-of-course exams and homework.

"Those are more appropriate means of measuring student performance," Mr. O'Sullivan said. "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."

The two other organizations representing teachers in Texas, the Association of Texas Professional Educators and the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, are not opposing use of campus ratings in professional evaluations.

Merit Pay Scrapped

Mr. Moses said that he preferred using a schoolwide rating because the old system, which considered classroom test scores, incited dispiriting competition among teachers. Under the system that the legislature abolished in 1993, teachers who received outstanding evaluations received merit raises.

The commissioner's new plan would use evaluations to identify teachers who need extra training, not to reward exceptional educators like Ms. Dailey.

"I've had former students name their kids after me," she said. "That's the kind of stuff you can't put a price on."

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