CVPE's Alpa, Jason, Anne, and Saul challenge HISD's use of test scores to evaluate and pay teachers in this op-ed in the Houston Chronicle.

CVPE's Alpa, Jason, Anne, and Saul challenge HISD's use of test scores to evaluate and pay teachers in this op-ed in the Houston Chronicle: Source:
By: Jason Lee, Alpa Sridharan, Saul Cantu and Anne Sung Date: May 7, 2014

It is Teacher Appreciation Week, and the tool that the Houston Independent School District school board had hoped would keep its best teachers in the classroom is actually sending great teachers running. At the board's meeting today, trustees will hear concerns from the community regarding the district's teacher evaluation and pay policy. Depending upon how the board reforms these systems, teachers will make decisions about where to start or continue their careers. Their choices will shape the quality of public education in Houston for years to come.

To evaluate its teachers, HISD uses the Educational Value-Added Assessment System - developed by SAS, a North Carolina company - that the district has used in some form since 2007. The EVAAS is one of several models that purport to measure a teacher's individual contribution to student performance on standardized tests by attempting to control for all other variables (family income, language skills, etc.). Originally developed to study genetic trends in cattle, SAS markets EVAAS to districts around the country and cautiously guards its statistical formula like the recipe to McDonald's special sauce.

HISD teacher Saul Cantu would love to get a look at the EVAAS model to better understand his scores. Cantu, who holds a mathematics degree from the University of Houston, has taught all levels of high school mathematics for 15 years. Cantu has repeatedly pursued assignments in high-needs schools with large Latino populations. While administrators, parents and peers have consistently rated him as a highly effective teacher, his EVAAS scores have varied wildly. While at Austin High, he earned one of the highest EVAAS scores and year-end bonuses possible. Two years ago, teaching the same subject at Davis High School, he received a below-average EVAAS score.

Cantu decided to leave Davis. "I can't afford to be heroic. I want to be in the toughest schools, but the EVAAS model interprets my students' challenges as my personal failure," Cantu told us.

The district places low-scoring teachers on "growth plans," which are marketed as professional development programs but increasingly are being used as the first step to termination.

Cantu isn't alone in doubting the reliability of EVAAS, or of value-added statistical models in general. Over the past several years, numerous studies have questioned the wisdom of using them as the primary means of teacher evaluation.

Last month, the American Statistical Association warned against the misuse of value-added models by school districts. The association, which promotes excellence in statistical science, cautions that value-added models require "high-level statistical expertise" and "awareness of their assumptions and possible limitations." According to the organization, "most (value-added model) studies find that teachers account for only about 1 percent to 14 percent of the variability in test scores, and that the majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found" outside of the classroom. "Ranking teachers by their value-added model scores," the organization added, "can have unintended consequences that reduce equality."

For Cantu, unintended consequences meant leaving the students who needed him most. The EVAAS assessment may force strong teachers out of the district altogether. Instructors for teaching certification programs report that their students are increasingly looking for jobs outside of HISD.

Over the coming months, trustees will decide whether HISD will continue to evaluate teachers with flawed and unreliable models. Instead of reinforcing negative incentives, the board should work with teachers to develop a system that is credible, consistent and clear.

HISD should learn from our neighboring districts, which use classroom observations to evaluate teachers. HISD should also consider as a model the Maryland Montgomery County Peer Assistance and Review Program for evaluating teachers, providing extra support to struggling teachers and removing those who do not improve.

Like the seven highly regarded HISD teachers who have filed a lawsuit against the district, the community must call upon the school board to send EVAAS packing. Our children deserve no less.

Jason Lee, Alpa Sridharan and Anne Sung are members of Community Voices for Public Education, a local organization that advocates for community-led school reform.



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