Texas Education Officials Struggling with Federal, State Control

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Texas has a couple of things to worry about over the rejection of the state’s proposed educator evaluation system: One is the waiver from the No Child Left Behind, which could be in danger of being pulled by the feds, and two is a possible reopening of the battle over local control of school district policy.

The Texas Education Agency released a letter in which federal officials  listed  concerns about the way Texas is approaching the evaluation of teachers and principals, writes Morgan Smith of The Texas Tribune. Officials want to know how student achievement on standardized testing would be included  performance measurement. Texas education officials have begun a pilot program that does use standardized tests, but in a limited way. Still, Texas officials insist that they have no power to require districts to use specific evaluation measures.

“I have always made it clear to federal officials that as part of the waiver process TEA could not exceed its current authority nor would we do anything to erode our state’s strong commitment to local control in public education. My position on this front has not, and will not, change,” Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams said in a statement. 

For over two years, there have been negotiations over the terms of the waiver, which was granted in 2013 by the federal education department. The condition was that the state develop a teacher evaluation system that is in line with federal guidelines. If the waiver ends, state school districts could experience forced restructuring for failing to meet the law’s mandate that 100% of each district’s students pass reading and math exams.

Williams says the requirements would need action from the state legislature. The process would be to pass laws that require changes or to give the state education agency the authority to do so. In 2013, using student achievement as part of teacher evaluation did not come to pass because of the question of whether standardized test are an accurate measurement of student learning. Because of that, former Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick had to drop a section from the bill that would have resulted in tying test scores to teacher performance.

In order to be eligible for waivers, states must base at least 20% of teacher and principal evaluations on student assessments, which includes standardized test performance. Educators say high-stakes testing is an inadequate measure of student learning. Now, Texas has until March 31 to submit the waiver again, according to Lauren McGaughy, writing for the San Antonio Express-News.

“Frankly, (the consequences) seem more manageable than maybe most people think,” said Monty Exter, lobbyist for the state’s largest educator group, the Association of Texas Professional Educators. “The sky has not fallen, and in neither instance has any (federal) money been taken away.”

Holly Eaton, director of professional development and advocacy for the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, agrees and says that perhaps the lawmakers are setting the stage to exit the federal scene. The Texas Education Agency, however, says they are still talking to their federal counterparts.

Teachers in the Lytle Independent School District are already evaluated with a system that uses observations by other staff members, called Collaboration Learning Leaders. This comes after experimenting with teacher evaluation models since 2007.

Now, the state will probably join the national movement to increase the rigor of its teacher evaluations and will develop a new model within two years. Four districts are trying new methods using grants and significant investments of the districts’ own money. All, to some degree, use student test scores as a yardstick to measure teacher performance. While some teachers are wary of instructor evaluations, the educators in these four districts see evaluations as the path to bonuses and a way to know if they have improved in their performances.