Breaking News: The End of Value-Added Measures for Teacher Termination in Houston

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Recall from multiple prior posts (see, for example, here, here, here, here, and here) that a set of teachers in the Houston Independent School District (HISD), with the support of the Houston Federation of Teachers (HFT) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), took their district to federal court to fight against the (mis)use of their value-added scores derived via the Education Value-Added Assessment System (EVAAS) — the “original” value-added model (VAM) developed in Tennessee by William L. Sanders who just recently passed away (see here). Teachers’ EVAAS scores, in short, were being used to evaluate teachers in Houston in more consequential ways than any other district or state in the nation (e.g., the termination of 221 teachers in one year as based, primarily, on their EVAAS scores).

The case — Houston Federation of Teachers et al. v. Houston ISD — was filed in 2014 and just one day ago (October 10, 2017) came the case’s final federal suit settlement. Click here to read the “Settlement and Full and Final Release Agreement.” But in short, this means the “End of Value-Added Measures for Teacher Termination in Houston” (see also here).

More specifically, recall that the judge notably ruled prior (in May of 2017) that the plaintiffs did have sufficient evidence to proceed to trial on their claims that the use of EVAAS in Houston to terminate their contracts was a violation of their Fourteenth Amendment due process protections (i.e., no state or in this case district shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process). That is, the judge ruled that “any effort by teachers to replicate their own scores, with the limited information available to them, [would] necessarily fail” (see here p. 13). This was confirmed by the one of the plaintiffs’ expert witness who was also “unable to replicate the scores despite being given far greater access to the underlying computer codes than [was] available to an individual teacher” (see here p. 13).

Hence, and “[a]ccording to the unrebutted testimony of [the] plaintiffs’ expert [witness], without access to SAS’s proprietary information – the value-added equations, computer source codes, decision rules, and assumptions – EVAAS scores will remain a mysterious ‘black box,’ impervious to challenge” (see here p. 17). Consequently, the judge concluded 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” (see here p. 18).

Thereafter, and as per this settlement, HISD agreed to refrain from using VAMs, including the EVAAS, to terminate teachers’ contracts as long as the VAM score is “unverifiable.” More specifically, “HISD agree[d] it will not in the future use value-added scores, including but not limited to EVAAS scores, as a basis to terminate the employment of a term or probationary contract teacher during the term of that teacher’s contract, or to terminate a continuing contract teacher at any time, so long as the value-added score assigned to the teacher remains unverifiable. (see here p. 2; see also here). HISD also agreed to create an “instructional consultation subcommittee” to more inclusively and democratically inform HISD’s teacher appraisal systems and processes, and HISD agreed to pay the Texas AFT $237,000 in its attorney and other legal fees and expenses (State of Texas, 2017, p. 2; see also AFT, 2017).

This is yet another big win for teachers in Houston, and potentially elsewhere, as this ruling is an unprecedented development in VAM litigation. Teachers and others using the EVAAS or another VAM for that matter (e.g., that is also “unverifiable”) do take note, at minimum.

4 thoughts on “Breaking News: The End of Value-Added Measures for Teacher Termination in Houston

  1. EVASS is still in force in OHIO. It is the wish of state legislators and the state education officials. The teachers who are well informed do not have the deep pockets to pursue litigation. The injustice will continue for many reasons, all with much posturing about accountability.

  2. Since this was a decision in federal court can’t it be used as precedent to ban VAM evaluations elsewhere? And what percent of the VAM formula was used in the Houston ratings system, and does that matter in future cases? I cant read the decision without signing up for yet another app that I don’t want. Thanks!

    • In terms of a response to your first question, from what I understand, one trial court’s rulings are not necessarily binding on other trial courts the way an appeal court’s rulings might be. However, this ruling could be used as what lawyers call ‘persuasive.’ On the other hand, if a school district uses VAMs in a different way than Houston did, or if that VAM is more transparent, a case against that school district could turn out differently.

      As for the weight of the VAM in Houston, at one point it trumped everything (although this was not written anywhere), but this made it 100%. It went down from there, though, I recall off-hand from 50% down to around 30%, etc. Always arbitrary but nonetheless.

      I’m also not following re: not being able to access this decision. It’s here:
      If another decision, please let me know and I can email it to you directly.

  3. Keep in mind that they haven’t gotten rid of VAMs, they just aren’t using them to terminate teachers. It sounds like Houston will still use them as an evaluation tool, just not the exclusive reason to terminate employment. Here in Ohio they are used as part of the evaluation (OTES). Although I haven’t heard of them being used to terminate employees, I’m sure employers look at those to drive decisions. As long as they are part of a school’s performance report administrators will pressure teachers for VA scores, putting pressure on teachers to achieve something that is unknowable and “impervious to challenge.”

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