New Hope for Standards-Based Reform in Texas K-12?



In April, the Texas State Teachers Association (TSTA) sued the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and its Commissioner Mike Morath, alleging that the scheduled July 1 implementation of the new Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS) violates state law by requiring that school districts base 20% of each teacher’s evaluation on student achievement growth measures based on standardized test scores.

The new evaluation system, which the TEA has been piloting for over a year, would replace the 20-year old method known as Professional Development and Appraisal System, which consistently produced results reflecting over 95% ratings of excellence among teachers in spite of student achievement.

This teacher union opposition is not surprising.  The teacher lobby has been in consistent opposition to any evaluation system that is in any form based on the advancement of student achievement as measured by standardized assessments, even a measly 20% weighting.  They simply do not want to be held accountable for student achievement.  In fact, the entire movement toward standards-and-accountability-based reform over the past twenty years confronted its most significant opposition when it began to extend accountability for student achievement to the educators and their preparation programs, primarily the traditional colleges of education.

What is most disappointing is that Texas, after leading the nation in K-12 standards-and-accountability-based reform for 20 years, now lags behind the rest of the nation in implementing what is arguably the most important area of that reform. According to a survey of state policy by the National Council of Teacher Quality, Texas is now one of only eight states that do not require a component of student achievement growth in teacher evaluations.

We have just recently marked the 50th anniversary of the major report “Equality of Educational Opportunity” mandated by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, better known as the Coleman Report after James S. Coleman, who led its seven authors.  The major takeaway from this report was captured by this conclusion:  “Schools bring little influence to bear on a child’s achievement that is independent of his background and general social context”.  In other words, socioeconomics is destiny.  We now know, based on the pioneering research work of William Sanders and others, that this is simply not the case, that there are more variations in student achievement between classrooms in a school than between schools in a district or between school districts and that the decisive input is the quality of instruction in the classroom.

But in all of the massive education reform efforts over the past couple of decades, this largest and most important remaining area of the K-12 reform space—educator effectiveness—has been relatively untouched in any meaningful way.  We need to truly professionalize all aspects of the teaching profession: academic and personal qualifications, preparation and professional development, compensation, and, of course, evaluation. In spite of all the recent talk about how Texas needs these reforms, there has been little serious, substantive progress. Here’s hoping T-TESS puts us back on the right path.


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