Lawsuit settlement ends use of value-added evaluations for Houston teachers

In another huge victory for the right of teachers to be fairly evaluated, Houston ISD agreed, in a settlement of a federal lawsuit brought by seven Houston teachers and our local union– the Houston Federation of Teachers–not to use value-added scores to terminate a teacher as long as the teacher is unable to independently test or challenge the score.

The most significant blow in this lawsuit was dealt last spring when a federal judge ruled against Houston ISD in a summary judgment that noted teachers’ due process rights had been violated due to their lack of sufficient information to meaningfully challenge terminations based on low value-added scores.  “The momentum against the misuse of test scores for teacher evaluations really peaked last spring after the federal judge ruled in our favor against value-added, and it was bolstered by another settlement of our lawsuit with the Texas Education Agency that stopped TEA from dictating the use of test scores to measure student performance for evaluations,” said Louis Malfaro, Texas AFT president. “Now this settlement lets Houston ISD and our union move on to define a fair and more accurate appraisal process.”

Value-added measures for teacher evaluation, called the Education Value-Added Assessment System, or EVAAS, in Houston, is a statistical method that uses a student’s performance on prior standardized tests to predict academic growth in the current year. This methodology—derided as deeply flawed, unfair and incomprehensible—was used to make decisions about teacher evaluation, bonuses and termination. It uses a secret computer program based on an inexplicable algorithm:

In May 2014, seven Houston teachers and the Houston Federation of Teachers brought an unprecedented federal lawsuit to end the policy, saying it reduced education to a test score, didn’t help improve teaching or learning, and ruined teachers’ careers when they were incorrectly terminated. Neither HISD nor its contractor allowed teachers access to the data or computer algorithms so that they could test or challenge the legitimacy of the scores, creating a “black box.” In May 2017, the federal district court in Houston issued a decision stating that, “HISD teachers have no meaningful way to ensure correct calculation of their EVAAS scores, and as a result are unfairly subject to mistaken deprivation of constitutionally protected property interests in their jobs.”

HFT President Zeph Capo said: “This victory should mark the end of a destructive era that put tests and a broken evaluation system over making sure our students leave school well prepared for college, career and life. As a practical matter, this ends the use of value-added to terminate teachers in HISD because the district does not have a contractor that is willing or able to meet the constitutional due process standards spelled out by the court.”

Daniel Santos, one of the plaintiffs and an award-winning sixth-grade teacher at Navarro Middle School who was rated ineffective by the flawed EVAAS method, was elated with the settlement.

“I have always been devoted to my students and proud of my teaching skills.  Houston needs a well-developed system that properly evaluates teachers, provides good feedback and ensures that educators will receive continuous, targeted professional development to improve their performance,” Santos said.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said the agreement not to use value-added measures for this purpose is the latest nail in the coffin of using tests as a punitive tool. The Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal education law that replaced the No Child Left Behind Act, eliminated the emphasis on test scores.

“Testing and EVAAS don’t measure critical or analytical thinking skills, don’t allow for engaging learning, and certainly don’t improve or create joy in teaching or learning. Instead of value-added methods, let’s value what kids really need: attention to their well-being, engaging and powerful learning, a collaborative school environment, and opportunities for teachers to build their skills throughout their careers,” Weingarten said.

In addition to agreeing to restrict its use of value-added measures, including EVAAS scores, the school district agreed to create an instructional consultation panel—with representatives from the district and the faculty—to discuss and make recommendations on the district’s teacher appraisal process. The settlement also requires HISD to pay Texas AFT $237,000 for attorney’s fees and expenses related to the lawsuit.

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