Seven teachers sue HISD over controversial evaluation system

Seven district teachers and the Houston Federation of Teachers have sued the Houston Independent School District in Federal District Court, charging that the district inappropriately uses standardized test scores in teacher evaluations.

The lawsuit has national implications as federal education policy encourages districts to increase their use of standardized evaluations.

At issue is HISD’s use of value-added methodology to evaluate teachers. Value- added methodologies calculate predicted test scores for students based on a number of criteria and then estimate the “value-added” by each teacher based on how much the students’ results on standardized tests exceed or fall short of predicted values. The district makes use of a product called Education Value-added Assessment System (EVAAS), which, according to the lawsuit, does not include socioeconomic or demographic characteristics of students, which research has shown play a large role in student achievement.

HISD’s discussion of EVAAS is provided here.

EVAAS results constitute 50 percent of a teacher’s annual evaluation. 25 percent come from “employing adequate instructional practice” and 25 percent “meeting professional expectations.” These results stem from classroom observation.

The value-added measures play a large role in decisions to renew teachers’ contracts and determine teacher eligibility for annual merit bonuses, which are provided through the district’s Aspire program.

The seven plaintiffs cite numerous expert reports, including one from the American Statistics Association, that estimates of teacher value have large standard errors and cannot reasonably impute a teacher’s value from year to year – with the implication that decisions to retain teachers or offer them bonuses would be effectively random.

This random pattern shows up in each of the plaintiffs records. All of has received multiple awards for effective teaching from the district, yet have had their EVAAS scores swing wildly from year-to-year, despite teaching a similar curriculum in the same schools.

For example, take Andy Dewey, a social studies teacher at Carnegie Vanguard School. According to the HFT’s court filings, in 2012 he was rated as one of the most effective teachers in the district, while in 2013 he was rated as adding no value; despite no underlying changes to his teaching style or curriculum.

The lawsuit also alleges that HISD provides no meaningful way for teachers to improve their performance before sanctions are imposed, as teachers do not receive their evaluation scores until the fall after they actually teach the students in questions.  Finally, the suing teachers and HFT claims that district principals receive pressure to downgrade their own teacher ratings from classroom observation if a teacher’s EVAAS scores are lower than the results from the observation.

HISD has not commented publicly on the lawsuit.

For coverage of the issue, see here.

The text of the lawsuit is also available here.

For a Thesis report on the results of the Aspire bonus program, which is implicated in the lawsuit, see here.