Texas will take an additional year to pilot a controversial new state teacher evaluation system, Education Commissioner Michael Williams told federal education officials Wednesday.
“Texas educators understand the need to update the current evaluation system to one that better reflects what’s occurring in today’s classroom,” he said in a written statement. “If Texas is to develop an evaluation system that truly supports our teachers, we need time to complete the pilot year and then utilize the constructive feedback we will receive from our school districts, charters and educators.”
The new policy — which for the first time ties teacher assessments to student performance on standardized tests — is also the first update to teacher evaluations the state has made in 17 years.
Williams informed the U.S. Department of Education of his decision in a letter requesting the extension of a waiver from No Child Left Behind requirements. During the last legislative session, attempts to emphasize student achievement in teacher evaluation hit a roadblock amid overwhelming support among state lawmakers to scale back standardized exams. But when the state received the federal waiver last September, it came with the condition that it update teacher evaluations, which are used for pay and employment decisions, to include a focus on student test scores.
Under the new system, school districts would base 20 percent of each teacher's evaluation on “student growth” data that includes standardized test scores. The system has attracted criticism from a range of sources, including teacher groups and lawmakers from both parties who oppose attaching high stakes to state tests.
Delaying the roll-out of the new policy was a "wise decision," said Linda Bridges, the president of the Texas Branch of the American Federation of Teachers, in a statement.
"It's a good step, but any feedback the commissioner is going to get in this short time will certainly echo what teachers have said all along, that bogus value-added measures are no way to evaluate teachers, and in fact, misusing test scores for evaluations will drive teachers away from the profession," she said.
According to the Texas Education Agency, up to 70 school districts will participate in the pilot program set to begin this fall. At least one of those districts, Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, which is the state's third-largest, has since decided to withdraw because of concerns over the inclusion of student test scores.
In a June op-ed explaining the decision, Cypress-Fairbanks superintendent Mark Henry said the approach "places additional fear, anxiety and pressure on professionals who are stressed enough already."
"I have seen this first-hand with principals and teachers who fret over the STAAR test, a once-per-year high-stakes assessment that measures how a child performed on one test on one day," he said. "Testing is a key diagnostic tool, and results should be used to assess the progress of students so plans can be developed to address the gaps and deficiencies of each student."