Under the HISD plan, those with poor evaluations can be fired
By ERICKA MELLON | HOUSTON CHRONICLE
Feb. 11, 2011
Teachers in the Houston school district would be held much more accountable for their students' learning under a highly anticipated proposal to change the way they are evaluated.
Under the draft plan, released for public comment this month, roughly half a teacher's rating would be based on student test scores and other evidence of academic progress. The current system relies almost solely on principals' observations of teachers at work.
The proposed changes, if approved by the school board, would put the Houston Independent School District among a small but growing number of districts nationwide emphasizing test scores when grading educators.
The issue draws strong reactions from teachers because those with poor evaluations can be fired.
"This is an enormous change," said Chuck Robinson, who represents HISD teachers as the executive director of the Congress of Houston Teachers. "It's much too heavy on the student achievement end. Fifty percent — that is just huge."
Under the plan, the other half of a teacher's rating would come from criteria such as their ability to engage students, planning skills, collaboration with parents, attendance and participation in professional development.
Administrators would have to visit teachers' classrooms more often - at least six times a year instead of once - and give them regular written feedback.
"Teachers do a lot of things, but their most important job is to make sure their kids learn," said Ellen Hur of the New Teacher Project, a nonprofit hired by HISD to help develop a new appraisal process. "Student achievement has to be a significant part of their evaluation."
Leaders of HISD's two largest teacher groups said their biggest problem with the proposal is the use of a specific model of analyzing test scores, the same one the district uses to determine which teachers get performance bonuses.
The so-called value-added model relies on complex statistics to determine whether students fared better or worse than expected on standardized tests.
Only teachers of core subjects - such as math and science - in grades three through eight have value-added scores. That represents about one-third of the district's 12,200 teachers.
Others could be rated on their students' progress on district exams or end-of-course tests. For some subjects, such as art, student projects could count. Every teacher would be rated on two different measures of student performance.
Gayle Fallon, who runs the Houston Federation of Teachers, called the use of value-added data a "deal breaker." But she said Texas law doesn't allow her to challenge the content of the appraisal.
Districts are allowed to deviate from the state's model, called the Professional Development and Appraisal System, if their system is developed by committees made up of educators and parents.
Fallon questioned whether HISD officials have embraced the committees' input.
"It didn't go as smoothly as they say it went, but we'll see," she said. "There's still a lot of room for discussion."
More than 1,000 teachers and other committee members have had a voice in the process since September, said Julie Baker, HISD's chief officer of major projects. More people will have a chance during the comment period this month.
The use of test scores in rating teachers has been a key part of President Barack Obama's education reform agenda. Today, 10 states require student learning to count for a majority of the appraisal, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality.
In HISD, each teacher would get an overall rating - highly effective, effective, needs improvement or ineffective - under the proposal. The rating would be based on their scores in instructional practice, professional expectations and student performance.
Principals or other administrators would have to observe every teacher at least twice a year for 30 minutes and conduct four 10-minute walk-throughs of their class. Teachers would have conferences with their appraiser at least three times to set goals and strategies.
The current system requires one 45-minute observation and allows principals to exempt well-performing, experienced teachers.
Fallon said the repeated observations would be a poor use of principals' time.
Angel Wilson, a teacher at Codwell Elementary on the appraisal committee, said she was leery about changes at first but now particularly likes the multiple conferences with the appraiser.