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Student Test Scores Could Play A Role In Evaluating Teachers

Louisa Jonas
Texas Public Radio
Gracie Oviedo teaches first-graders at Highland Park Elementary School.

By the beginning of the next school year in the fall, Texas districts must adopt a method for evaluating teachers.  The new state education commissioner’s proposal for doing that has set off a fire storm among some teachers’ groups, because it lists student test scores as one factor that can be considered in the evaluation. It’s not a requirement that test scores be used, but some teachers are concerned. 

Gracie Oviedo’s first grade students are quickly picking up how to tell time. She’s a teacher at Highland Park Elementary in San Antonio, and the executive vice president of the San Antonio Alliance, a teacher’s group that’s against the commissioner’s plan.

Gracie Oviedo

"One test score, one time of year to see if you’re good, that’s not valid. If we’re going to look at children we should look at the whole scope—where are they socially and emotionally? Where are they developmentally in literacy, in mathematical skills? Rather than one test that everyone takes; they’re just not going to do well," she says.

Under Commissioner Mike Morath’s plan, 20 percent of teachers’ evaluations is based on student growth. Districts can choose one of four ways to measure that growth including the state-wide STAAR test. And that’s the controversial one.

Oviedo says when teachers are evaluated on their students’ test results, it threatens teamwork.

"I think a system like T-Tess- it starts pitting teachers against teachers. Well, I’m not going to share this with you because I’m going to do this for MY evaluation, and I want to get more points than you. Once you have a system that does that then there’s no collaboration. You’re making me compete against my peers, which I think is a detriment to education," she says.

Credit Louisa Jonas / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
Susan Castro

Susan Castro teaches kindergarten at Hawthorne Academy. She says some students who perform poorly may do so because of lack of parental involvement.

"It’s going to reward teachers at campuses where there is a lot of parental support. What’s it going to do to morale of teachers who stay until 8 or 9 getting ready for their students, doing everything they can?  What’s that telling those teachers?" Castro asks.

Debbie Ratcliffe, the director of media relations, working under Morath, stresses using scores is only an option, not a requirement.

"Increasingly around the country, it’s a common way to help evaluate teacher performance. Are students learning and improving while they’re in a teacher’s classroom? It’s harder to implement than just observations, but we think it’s a critical component," Ratcliffe says.

Under state law, school districts must evaluate teachers, but they don’t have to use test scores to do that.  Some teachers’ groups believe many districts will, however, because they don’t have the capacity to develop their own evaluation programs.

Morath’s idea to use test scores to evaluate teachers isn’t new to him.  He was a member of the Dallas school board where testing accounted for 35 percent of a teacher’s grade.

Dallas school board member Miguel Solis served with Morath and says the evaluations seem to be making a difference.  He says those evaluations helped identify the teachers who performed the best. They were then  given monetary incentives to teach in the lowest performing schools.

"And out of those seven schools, every single one has seen double digit gains on their state exams. And some of these are like 21 percent increases in things like reading and mathematics. And this is just after one year," Solis says.

But many Dallas teachers have objected. Rena Honea is the president of the Alliance of American Federation of Teachers, Dallas local. She says the scores are tied to pay so some teachers have missed out on raises and some have been terminated.

"Their whole livelihood is based on many times one day or two days of testing where there may be outside factors affecting a student’s ability: if they’re not good test takers, if they’ve had traumatic experiences, if they’re hungry that day," Honea says.

Honea blames the evaluation system for many experienced teachers leaving, that 92 percent of teachers now have five years or less experience in the classroom.

San Antonio ISD hasn’t decided whether or not to choose the STAAR tests when evaluating teachers. They will not base raises on test scores.

Oviedo, who teaches first grade, says she won’t be around to find out.  She’s been passionate about teaching for 30 years but has decided to retire in June. And though she says she didn’t make that decision because of the evaluations plan, she feels she’s getting out just in time.

Of note:  The Texas State Teacher’s Association is suing Texas Education Commissioner Morath for suggesting student test scores be an option in grading teachers.  Morath’s communications department has responded saying:  Teachers helped develop the evaluation criteria, and the Commissioner’s rules clearly note school districts are free to use evaluation measures other than test scores.