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EVAAS

HISD hires its defenders for the teacher evaluation lawsuit

I have to say, I’m a bit uncomfortable with this.

Earlier this year, seven teachers sued the Houston Independent School District in federal court over their evaluation system.

That system uses a statistical formula and student test scores to grade teachers.

At its meeting this week, the Houston school district decided to hire a high-profile law firm to fight that case.

The board will pay those legal fees with a grant from Houston billionaire John Arnold, who helped created that same system to grade teachers.

With a 6-2 vote, the trustees approved hiring the law firm Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, LLP, to defend Houston’s teacher evaluation system in federal court.

“I think there’s the potential for this to be a high-profile case and I think it’s important for the district to have the best representation possible in this and any situation that we confront through the legal system,” said HISD Trustee Anna Eastman.

See here for the background. I have no issue with HISD being represented by top-notch counsel, and I can certainly see the merit in having what is likely to be an expensive legal bill covered by someone other than the taxpayers. But this raises an important and uncomfortable question: Whose interests are being represented by Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher – HISD’s, or John Arnold’s? If the HISD Board of Trustees finds itself in disagreement with John Arnold over the legal strategy employed by Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, who will the lawyers listen to? If the Board decides they want to negotiate a settlement, but John Arnold insists on pushing through to a verdict, whose opinion carries the day? What if Arnold threatens to cut off the spigot and leave HISD with the remaining bills if they don’t do things his way?

Maybe I’m being overly dramatic here, but my point is that lawyers represent clients, and this arrangement has the potential to complicate that relationship. Perhaps the Board has thought all this through and gotten an agreement in writing from all relevant parties about who gets to approve the decisions that will need to be made during this process. If they haven’t however, then all I can say is that billionaires tend to think they’re in charge, especially when it’s their money being spent. I just hope everyone went into this with their eyes open.

One more thing:

These particular outside lawyers just won a groundbreaking case in California.

There a judge ruled that California’s teacher tenure, firing and discipline procedures are unconstitutional.

That decision was controversial, to say the least, and there’s a good possibility it may not survive appeal. That doesn’t really have anything to do with the main point of this story, I just wanted to mention it.

Meet T-TESS

Texas has a new teacher evaluation system on the way. It won’t come without a fight.

Texas’ more than 380,000 public school teachers are girding for a tumultuous few years as a new method of grading their performance is expected to generate heated legislative debates and perhaps legal challenges.

Already, the Houston Independent School District is facing a lawsuit challenging the effectiveness and accuracy of evaluating teachers based in part on their students’ performance. Legislators have scheduled a hearing on the issue this week as the state prepares to test a similar evaluation model.

For the first time in 17 years, the Texas Education Agency has proposed a new statewide teacher evaluation method, dubbed the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System, or T-TESS. According to details released last week, 70 percent of teacher grades under T-TESS will be based on classroom observations, 20 percent on “student growth” data including test scores and 10 percent on self-evaluation.

After a pilot beginning this fall, the finalized method will be rolled out in 2015 and will mandate every school district base 20 percent of its teacher grading system on student performance, which for some teachers includes “value-added data” based on state standardized test scores.

Previous evaluation methods have been voluntary and developed independently of the federal government. T-TESS, on the other hand, was developed to enable the state to opt out of certain student performance benchmarks mandated under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Federal approval of T-TESS is expected.

The T-TESS negotiations between TEA and the federal government have been cooperative, but that is likely to change. Teacher unions are raising the possibility of an HISD-like lawsuit, and lawmakers are preparing for another year of battles on the issue come January.

“Nothing is off the table,” said Linda Bridges, president of the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. Her group’s Houston affiliate is a plaintiff in the Houston lawsuit, and is one of many questioning the legality of the new method.

As noted, a lawsuit was filed over HISD’s teacher evaluation system, called EVAAS. That has to do with the way EVAAS does its evaluations, while the talk here is more over whether the TEA has the authority to implement something like T-TESS. It’s still more than a year before T-TESS would be rolled out, and there’s some suggestion in the story that this timeline is too optimistic. The later it actually goes live, the more likely there will be a court ruling in the suit against EVAAS, which could have an effect on things. There’s also likely to be some political backlash in 2016 one way or another, as education reform is an issue on which there’s a great deal of disagreement, in both parties. Keep an eye on this, it’s not going away.

Lawsuit filed over teacher evaluation system

A new front is opened in the war on standardized testing.

Seven HISD teachers and their union are suing the school district to try to end job evaluations tied to students’ test scores, arguing the method is arbitrary, unfair and in violation of their due-process rights.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court late Wednesday, could have far-reaching implications as more districts and states use student test data to grade teachers.

The Houston case focuses on the district’s use of a specific, privately developed statistical model that analzes test data to try to gauge a teacher’s effectiveness.

In some cases, according to the lawsuit, teachers see their scores fluctuate from year to year, while other results are based on tests not aligned to the state curriculum. The lawsuit also argues that all teachers aren’t treated equally, and they can’t adequately challenge their ratings because the formula is too opaque.

For example, the lawsuit says, Andy Dewey, a social studies teacher at Carnegie Vanguard High School, received such high scores in 2012 that he qualified for the district’s top performance bonus; his results the next year dropped significantly.

“Mr. Dewey went from being deemed one of the highest performing teachers in HISD to one making ‘no detectable difference’ for his students,” the lawsuit said.

Dewey has told the Houston Chronicle previously that he does not understand why his scores vary when he and his fellow social studies teachers — they are rated as a team — don’t change their instruction significantly from year to year.

[…]

The system at the center of the lawsuit generally is called “value added.” It uses complex statistics to estimate how well students should perform on standardized tests based on their own past performance. Teachers whose students score better than expected get the best ratings, whether or not the students passed the test.

To do the analysis, HISD contracts with a North Carolina company, whose model is called the Education Value-Added Assessment System, or EVAAS.

You can see a copy of the lawsuit here, the press release from the AFT is here, and some background is here. The Texas AFT has an illustration of the EVAAS formula here. I am not opposed in theory to the idea of value-added evaluations. This is basically what the sabermetric revolution in sports has been all about, coming up with ways to measure performance and determine the value of players in various sports. In sports, however, the relationship between the various metrics – runs created, points per possession, DVOA, etc – has been demonstrably linked to the teams’s actual on-field performance. They also show what sort of things a given player needs to do in order to be valuable. Finally, there are multiple systems that have been created to measure value, and they have risen or fallen based on their usefulness and accuracy. I don’t know how much any of this is true for EVAAS. I do know that teachers should have a clear understanding of what is expected of them, and they should have some input on their evaluation. I’ll be very interested to see how this goes. The Trib and K-12 Zone have more.