The school board on Thursday gave initial approval to a policy that allows the district to dismiss teachers whose students consistently perform below expectations on standardized tests. The change represents a move to make personnel decisions based more on student learning instead of relying solely on principals’ classroom observations of teachers.
[HISD Superintendent Terry] Grier and school board members have emphasized that the district’s goal is not to fire teachers but to help them improve. Teachers’ job evaluations now will include their so-called value-added scores, a statistical measure of their effectiveness in helping students reach their potential on standardized exams.
Well, we’ll see how it goes. The teachers don’t much like this, and I can’t say I blame them. We rely an awful lot on standardized tests, and while I think they provide a good metric, they’re just one dimension. They shouldn’t be over-emphasized. I think as long as they’re just another factor in the evaluation, it’ll be all right. The more it’s used, the less comfortable I’ll be.
Do bear in mind that not all teachers teach subjects that are covered by standardized tests. That was a complaint about the merit pay program, too, since it meant some teachers were automatically excluded. Also, as noted in Hair Balls, using improvement on standardized tests as a metric isn’t so effective for Gifted and Talented teachers, whose students generally start out at a very high level on these tests and thus literally can’t improve much, and it complicates the decision of when to transition bilingual kids into English-only classes. The devil is very much in the details here.
One thing I’m curious about:
[Houston Federation of Teachers President Gayle] Fallon places blame on principals who don’t identify weak teachers early in their careers. For their first three or four years on the job, public school teachers in Texas are on probationary contracts, making it easier for districts to dismiss them.
In Texas, getting rid of a teacher with more experience, however, can take up to seven months and cost thousands of dollars in legal fees.
“It’s a long process,” said attorney David Thompson, who represents HISD and other Texas districts. “You can see why educators who don’t deal with this every day find it daunting and why it can be discouraging.”
Why not place a greater burden on the principals to do a better job of weeding out the weaker teachers before they get tenure? You have to be careful to not do this in a way that would provide an incentive for principals to fire any time they’re in doubt, but if this is the best time to take action, then let’s make sure action gets taken when appropriate. Come up with a metric that shows how many teachers that were subsequently identified as underperforming a given principal allowed to get tenure, and make that a part of a principal’s evaluation. That’s not perfect – among other things, some people who start out as good performers do later become poor ones, for a variety of reasons – but I think it’s in the right direction. What do you think? School Zone has more.