Texas Teachers’ Unions Latest to Sue to Block New Teacher Evaluation System

Written by: Dave Reid

Primary Source:  Green & Write – May 2, 2016

In late April two Texas teachers’ unions filed a lawsuit, arguing the state’s new proposed teacher evaluation system violates state law. Specifically, the suit cites that the use of a student growth component in a teacher’s evaluation violates the law that says a teacher’s evaluation must be based on “observable, job related behavior”.

This marks the latest in a long line of federal and state filed lawsuits regarding changes in teacher evaluation laws.

Why the Lawsuits?

Currently within the field of education there is perhaps no more polarizing issue than teacher evaluation policies.

Photo Courtesy of Julius Koivistoinen

This is due in large part to the constantly evolving nature of these policies and the increasing stakes attached to these policies (for example, in many states teachers can now be fired based on their final evaluation score).

The evolving nature of these policies is in response to an overwhelming majority of teachers receiving effective ratings, making it difficult to identify which teachers are truly high-quality. In an effort to address this, the Race to the Top (RTTT) initiative in 2009 encouraged states to change the process of evaluating teachers, with focus on evaluations that can better distinguish teacher performance as well as provide better information on what makes a high-quality teacher.

As a result, since 2009 more than two-thirds of states have made significant changes to how teachers are evaluated. This nationwide reform effort has resulted in teachers being evaluated in drastically different ways than any other time in history.

Any Success?

To date, none of these lawsuits have won. In Florida, unsuccessful suits regarding teacher merit-pay and that teachers in untested subjects were being unfairly judged, both ended in favor of the state. Other lawsuits in Louisiana, New Mexico, and Tennessee all ruled in favor of the state as well.

There are several lawsuits that are in progress including in Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Tennessee, and another one in Texas.

The Future

Many people find these lawsuits unnecessary as the changes many states are proposing to how teachers are evaluated are consistent with what many educational researchers and experts consider “smart” teacher evaluation policy. For example, many groups agree using multiple measures to evaluate teachers, such as observations and student assessment data, weighting these measures evenly (i.e. 50% student assessment data and 50% observational data), and observing teachers multiple times per year is a better way to evaluate teachers than many current systems.

Many policymakers and educational leaders believe these new evaluation laws have the potential to improve student achievement in the state by providing current teachers with actionable feedback to help them improve their practice and by identifying and keeping effective teachers in the workforce.

However, critics argue new teacher evaluation measures judge teachers unfairly, particularly with the use of questionable student assessment data.

These types of lawsuits are likely to continue as changes to how teachers are evaluated remain fluid. Depending on how the cases in progress play out over the coming months, lawsuits may be filed in other states attempting to slow down the process of teacher evaluation reform and innovation.

Contact Dave: reiddav1@msu.edu

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Dave Reid
Dave is a doctoral student in Educational Policy and Teacher Education. His current research interests include how teachers make sense of and interact with the policies they are asked to implement. Prior to returning to graduate school, Dave was a 7th and 8th grade special education teacher and also served as an instructional coach for elementary and middle school teachers. Dave earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications from Franklin Pierce College and an M.Ed. in education from Arizona State University. - See more at: http://edwp.educ.msu.edu/green-and-write/who-we-are/#sthash.DLSaPTbe.dpuf