teacher evaluations

What about STAAR doesn’t the education commissioner understand?


In published comments this week, state Education Commissioner Mike Morath seemed confused about the STAAR testing regime and its negative impact on students. Either that, or he was talking out of both sides of his mouth.

In a visit to Abilene this week, Morath promoted his T-TESS teacher evaluation system, which is to be partly based on STAAR scores, raising the stakes on standardized testing as parental and educator opposition to high-stakes testing is growing. T-TESS is a punitive evaluation system that TSTA and other public education advocates have gone to court to try to stop.

Interestingly, in the same visit, Morath either contradicted himself about STAAR, or indicated he doesn’t really understand how bad the testing regime has become for students.

According to the Abilene Reporter News, at the end of a story linked below, Morath also said: You cannot allow assessments to become debilitating. You can’t allow them to become a point of stress, and you certainly cannot tell a child your life depends on an assessment.”

Didn’t he just describe STAAR?

Morath added, “It’s important to have a balanced view on what they (assessments) can and cannot do for us.”

He said the state must not lose sight of its goal to educate students beyond just a test. I agree, but when is state policy going to free educators to start doing that? And why did Morath add testing to the teacher evaluation system?




What the real numbers experts say about teacher evaluations


The American Statistical Association (ASA), an organization of professionals whose jobs are to make sense of numbers, warned two years ago of the unfairness and inaccuracy inherent in using test scores to evaluate teachers, but some educational bureaucrats still refuse to listen.

I looked up the ASA report again after Education Commissioner Mike Morath approved a new teacher evaluation model under which school districts could base 20 percent or more of a teacher’s evaluation on “student growth measures,” including so-called value added measures (VAM).

A VAM model typically is based on a complicated formula that compares a group of students’ actual scores on standardized tests to scores predicted by an equation based on test scores of other, but similar student groups. It is an opaque process that is incomprehensible to most educated people, but the American Statistical Association has figured it out and raised warning flags that Morath has failed or refused to see.

TSTA believes that Morath also has exceeded his authority as education commissioner in proposing that element in his teacher evaluation plan, and we have sued him to try to keep it from going into effect.

In its assessment, released in April 2014, the American Statistical Association warned that using VAMs for teacher evaluations could be counterproductive because the practice could result in even more class time being spent on test preparation “at the exclusion of content that may lead to better long-term learning gains or motivation for students.”

ASA also noted that, based on most VAM studies, teachers account for only about 1 percent to 14 percent of their students’ variability in test scores.

“The majority of the variation in test scores is attributable to factors outside of the teacher’s control, such as student and family background, poverty, curriculum and unmeasured influences,” the association wrote in its report.

Teachers welcome fair, productive evaluations that encourage professional development. They deserve to be evaluated on more than a numbers game, and the numbers experts agree.



TSTA lawsuit: students aren’t formulas, and teachers aren’t robots


Educators and parents get it. There are too many, high-stakes standardized tests in our classrooms. They steal time from the real work of teaching and learning and cause many children so much stress they destroy the joy of learning — and that is shameful.

Even the U.S. Congress gets it. That mostly dysfunctional group of Republicans and Democrats who don’t even like to agree on what day it is sensed so much public, bipartisan aversion to excessive testing that it junked the main test-generator, the No Child Left Behind Act, late last year, repealing the federal requirement that school accountability ratings be tied to test scores. In its place, they enacted the Every Student Succeeds Act, which encourages states to design accountability and teacher evaluation systems that more accurately and fairly reflect what educators actually do in the classroom.

But Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath still doesn’t get it. In one of his first major official acts, he approved a teacher evaluation system that would require school districts to base at least 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation on so-called student growth measures, essentially the test scores that we waste too much time on now.

Texas teachers could be left trying to figure out an incomprehensible formula that allegedly compares their students’ test scores to the scores their students should be making, based on who knows how many factors that Einstein may or may not have been able to figure out.

TSTA opposes several features of Morath’s evaluation plan, and we told him so, to no avail. So, now TSTA is suing him, specifically because we believe his student-growth requirement exceeds the commissioner’s authority under state law.

If Morath doesn’t understand the growing professional and public opposition to excessive, high-stakes testing, then maybe the man who appointed him, Gov. Greg Abbott, doesn’t understand it either.

But the truth is this. Students are not faceless or mindless numbers to crunch into meaningless formulas. And teachers aren’t robots to be rated on what those formulas spit out.


Federal education chief downplays testing


It remains to be seen, of course, how John B. King Jr., the new acting U.S. Education Secretary, will perform compared to his predecessor, Arne Duncan. But, whether he likes it or not, he won’t be as test-happy, thanks to the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

The new law, which replaced No Child Left Behind, encourages states and school districts to reduce the role of high-stakes testing and prohibits the education secretary from mandating that teachers be evaluated based on test scores.

King, who has been making something of a get-acquainted tour around the country, addressed testing and teacher evaluations at a recent teacher town hall meeting in Philadelphia. According to Education Week, he said the new federal law gives states and school districts a “fresh start” and a “much-needed do-over” on the issue of using student outcomes to evaluate educators.

Under No Child Left Behind and Arne Duncan, student outcomes included test scores, which also are part of a teacher evaluation model (T-TESS) proposed by the Texas Education Agency. But King pointed out that state tests don’t have to be part of an evaluation system, and he urged state policymakers to work with teachers to change appraisal systems that aren’t working.

“Teachers were not always adequately engaged by policymakers in the development of new systems,” King said.

ESSA gives educators an opportunity to change that. Now, it is up to educators to seize the challenge.