Houston’s Grier: Meaningful Teacher Appraisals Lead to Student Gains

 Terry Grier
 Terry Grier addresses an audience
during his Thought Leader session at
the National Conference on Education.
by Louise Henry

While Terry Grier, superintendent of the Houston Independent School District, is quick to admit that his district has not yet achieved the goal of an effective teacher in every classroom, he believes they are on their way.

He shared the school district’s progress during his Thought Leader session on Friday, “Teacher Appraisal Systems: How One Urban School District Links Effective Teaching to Student Achievement.”

“Quality should not be determined by zip code. Every child should have the same exposure to excellence,” he said. “Every child is entitled to have a quality teacher in every classroom.”

Grier reported that in 2009 the district leadership discovered nearly all teacher evaluations were the same, with only 3.4 percent rated “below proficient.” “But we had students performing below level -- the data was not consistent,” said Grier.

He described a need to establish a rigorous and fair teacher appraisal system that would provide useful assessments. Two years later, he said he could report:

• a new, rigorous and fair teacher appraisal system has been developed and all teachers have a professional growth plan;

• 586 teachers have been “exited” and another 160 were convinced to opt for an early retirement with a buy-out package;

• The district’s own data has helped determine which universities produce the most effective teachers, so they can optimize hiring of new teachers; and

• a new support system is in place to boost effectiveness of all teachers by embedding professional development into 30-45 hours instead of relying on a workshop to improve teaching.

The new teacher evaluation system includes multiple student performance measures, meeting professional expectations and objectives and instructional practices, measured by multiple classroom observations using a rubric.

The district has benefitted from a $6 million, five-year grant to work with the New Teacher Project from New York.

Houston has more than 200,000 students in 292 schools. Many measures show improvement, including the graduation rate, the dropout rate and the number of students scoring 500 or higher on the SAT, Grier said. But a significant number still do not read on grade level.

More information about the program is available at www.HISDeffectiveteachers.org. The presentation slides will be posted at http://houstonisd.org/aasapresentation.