Teachers in Houston ISD could lose their jobs for failing to improve student test scores under a controversial proposal slated for a school board vote Thursday.

HISD Superintendent Terry Grier’s plan to tie teachers’ job evaluations to their students’ progress on standardized tests would put Houston among a small but growing number of school districts pushing to make it easier to oust ineffective teachers.

The more aggressive approach coincides with President Barack Obama‘s call for increased teacher accountability. His administration’s $4.35 billion education grant competition, Race to the Top, excludes states that prohibit linking student test data to teachers’ evaluations.

“I cannot imagine a parent in Houston or anywhere else that would want their child in a teacher’s classroom who had a long history of not being able to help a student learn at a significant level,” Grier said.

The two largest teacher associations in HISD oppose the plan. Houston Federation of Teachers President Gayle Fallon said she is considering challenging its legality.

HISD already uses a statistical analysis of student test scores to decide which teachers get performance bonuses. That same complex formula now would be used to highlight ineffective teachers.

The so-called value-added method measures whether a teacher’s students scored better or worse than expected on standardized tests. The formula, developed by North Carolina statistician William Sanders, projects how each child should score based on that child’s past performance. Teachers whose students significantly exceed expectations are deemed the most effective.

3 or 4 years to improve

Under the HISD proposal, teachers’ value-added marks would be included in their job appraisals starting next school year. The policy does not say how much weight would be given to the value-added data in the overall evaluation.

Teachers could lose their jobs based on the data. The proposal would allow HISD not to renew a teacher’s contract because of “insufficient academic growth as reflected by value-added scores.”

Grier said the district would give teachers the chance to improve before ousting them and would rely on multiple, likely three or four, years of data.

The district’s current policy includes 33 reasons that could lead to nonrenewal of a teacher’s contract, none of which specifically mention student test scores. Teachers can be ousted for “a significant lack of student progress attributable to the educator.”

Fallon, the teachers’ union president, said her concern with the proposed changes center on its use of the value-added method, which she considers flawed, too complex and not transparent.

“If you’re going to fire me, it ought to be for something that I know how you calculate it,” she said. “You can’t show me this number predicts whether I’m a good teacher.”

Teacher got job back

She also questioned whether the district legally could fire a teacher based solely on low value-added scores. A Dallas teacher who was terminated for poor student achievement won back her job in 2008 after appealing to state Education Commissioner Robert Scott, who said her school’s environment was to blame.

Fallon and Chuck Robinson, the executive director of the Congress of Houston Teachers, also questioned the fairness of using the value-added data when only some teachers — those who teach core subjects in elementary or middle school — have individual data. High school teachers are rated as teams by subject (math, English, science and social studies).

Former HISD Trustee Natasha Kamrani, who did not seek re-election last year, first lobbied in 2008 for more aggressively targeting weak teachers.

“Studies tell us it’s the bottom 10 percent of teachers that are holding us back from better performance,” Kamrani said. “They are sprinkled throughout the system, and they screw up learning for kids. And if we don’t do something about them, we’re going nowhere.”

Principals’ evaluations

HISD board member Paula Harris said the proposed policy changes should not be controversial.

“I’ve talked to principals and teachers about this and the feedback I get is, everybody knows there are some teachers that need to be professionally developed or out of the profession,” Harris said.

HISD also is considering changes to the job evaluations of principals. They would be held accountable for numerous factors, including value-added data, financial stewardship, community outreach, school culture, the percentage of students enrolled in advanced courses and the percent scoring at the “commended” level on state exams.

The school board is expected to discuss the proposals at a meeting today before the vote Thursday.