Teachers Sue Over Controversial HISD Evaluation Method

Just last month, what has been described as one of the largest cheating scandals in the national public education system broke out in a full district — Atlanta Public Schools. 35 administrators and teachers were indicted by a grand jury on charges of “racketeering and corruption.”

The heart of the conspiracy? High stakes and big rewards for teachers whose students carry the highest standardized testing scores. Unfortunately, this score-based epidemic has slipped through the cracks of our very own district, HISD. 

Mr. Dewey and a graduating student from the Class of 2013.

Mr. Dewey and a graduating student from the Class of 2013.

A history instructor of Carnegie Vanguard High School, Mr. Andrew Dewey has been educating Gifted and Talented students for over 35 years. In 2011-12, he earned the top merit pay award handed out by HISD, along with a “most effective” teacher status through a controversial evaluation system that uses student standardized test scores. Then, without an apparent reason, the district re-evaluated Mr. Dewey as a teacher who made “no detectable difference” for his students — as he followed the very same, consistent teaching method. 

Last Wednesday, Dewey, along with six other teachers and the Houston Federation of Teachers, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Texas, declaring the “badly flawed method of evaluating teacher effectiveness” of the Educational Value-Added Assessment System, or EVAAS for short, by HISD. They argue that the testing scores do not assess the mandated curriculum, “growth” measures are arbitrary, and most of all, says Mr. Dewey, “high-stakes employment decisions has devastated employee morale.” 

Photo by Larry Cuban

Photo by Larry Cuban

This misleading procedure has its roots in a concept called value-added measures, which founded in HISD in 2007, and proliferates  across the nation supported by government funds. By plugging student standardized test scores into complex mathematical formulas, the assessment measures the “effectiveness” of a teacher. The suit, however, argues that it lacks true connection to actual student performance and fails to factor in the outside influences that may affect how well students perform.

Although the system implements ineffective and unfair techniques, the administrators say, it continues to play a large role in determining teacher salaries. Dewey said that the formulas used to determine “value” are often hidden from teachers to see, and when they are revealed, they are “incomprehensible for an average person to understand.”

“This country has spent billions on accountability, not on the improvement of teaching and learning at the classroom level, and value-added models are the leading edge of this misguided effort,” says Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers.

The result of this lawsuit could affect evaluation systems well beyond Texas.

Here’s the lawsuit:

Agree with Mr. Dewey’s case? Or have your own proposal of a better method to measure teacher effectiveness? Leave us a reply below. 

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