In early January the Texas Governor’s Business Council (GBC)–100 Texas business leaders who provide advice on education, transportation, and economic development–released a plan to “bolster teacher effectiveness” in its report on “Excellence in the Classroom.”
If implemented, the council’s recommendations will better outfit schools “with the best tools to increase teacher effectiveness and foster true excellence in the classroom,” said lead author Sandy Kress.
“Teachers matter,” Kress wrote. If a student has an effective teacher as opposed to an average teacher for five consecutive years, studies show the increased learning would close the gap between low- and middle-income students.
According to the GBC report, current Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards are too murky to be effective.
The report concluded TEKS standards should be better defined, more measurable, and more specific to each grade level. That would give “teachers clear direction on exactly what specific skills and knowledge and in what progression students should be taught,” Kress wrote.
TEKS standards should be revised and then implemented throughout the state within two years, the council recommended. The standards should be systematically taught, increasing in difficulty and complexity from one grade level to the next, and each level should be completed in a nine-month school year, the report recommended.
The tests that evaluate student achievement on the standards need revision because “the present standards emphasize the process more than the right answer,” explained Donna Garner, a retired public school teacher and education consultant in Waco. “They are project-based, emphasizing group-think instead of independent learning, [and they] encourage students to express their feelings, beliefs, and opinions more than expecting them to learn deep content knowledge.”
Current TEKS tests cannot be completed in a year, Garner added.
Because English, language arts, and reading “form the foundation for students’ success in all other courses,” that test must be rewritten first, said Garner. “Only then should other subject area standard revisions begin, followed by revision of assessment tools.”
According to the report, Texas should widely distribute specifically outlined TEKS standards to teachers and parents to explain what students should know academically at each grade level.
“The council is on the right track to recommend that TEKS, adopted in 1997, be revised so that they are academic, knowledge-based, measurable, explicit, and grade-level-specific,” Garner said.
Overhauling Teacher Assessment
In an effort to help teachers improve student learning, better teacher evaluation mechanisms are needed, Kress said.
Current teacher evaluation practices in Texas rely more on teacher efforts than on measured student achievement results, she wrote in the GBC report. To be useful, evaluations must be based “primarily on academic growth rates their students achieve over time,” the report said.
Since teachers do not have total control over student achievement, and several teachers contribute to a student’s learning, a portion of the evaluation must include principal and peer review, according to the report.
Disagreeing Over Means
Holly Eaton, spokesperson for the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, said teachers don’t need more consequences from testing.
“Student performance is already a small but appropriate component of the current appraisal system,” Eaton said, adding that current law already requires “new teachers [to] undergo a two- to three-year probationary period during which schools have the opportunity to scrutinize them heavily and easily remove them if necessary.”
That’s not enough, according to Kress. “Helping teachers succeed requires a far better means of evaluating teachers,” Kress said. “Teacher evaluations must be based on student achievement and be more objective and more thorough.”
Connie Sadowski ([email protected]) directs the Education Options Resource Center at the Austin CEO Foundation.
For more information …
Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) Tests by Grade Level, April 2006 are available at http://www.tea.state.tx.us/student.assessment/resources/release/taks/index.html
“Excellence in the Classroom,” issued by the Governor’s Business Council in December 2006, is available through PolicyBot™, The Heartland Institute’s free online research database. Point your Web browser to http://www.policybot.org and search for document #20592.
“Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills Learning Standards for Texas Children: A Summary for Parents” is also available through PolicyBot™. Search for document #20593.