April 2012

Texas TAP keeps pace despite drought in state grant funds

Texas school administrators know that this is not the time to spend money on education reforms that provide little bang for the buck. When it comes to improving underperforming schools, time and money are clearly in short supply.

 

It seems noteworthy, then, that the Texas Teacher Advancement Program (TAP) has not only weathered the storm of cuts to one of the main funding sources districts used to implement the program in the last legislative session, it has actually managed to grow.

There’s little doubt that growth will continue, with Texas TAP officials seeking a 2012 Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant from the U.S. Department of Education and looking for new district partners.

DATE dilemma

Severe cuts to District Awards for Teaching Excellence (DATE) grant funds in the last legislative session slowed TAP’s expansion because some districts used the funds to cover part of the program’s costs. At the same time, state education funding was cut, so all districts were asked to do more with less. Tammy Kreuz

“I certainly think that we would have had a greater expansion of TAP over the past year if the DATE funding would have been appropriated at a higher level,” said Tammy Kreuz, TAP executive director. For 2011-12, 68 Texas schools have the TAP system in place: 35 elementaries, 16 middle schools, and 17 high schools (up from 47 schools in 2010-11). Kreuz originally predicted that 100 schools would have the program by now.

“It is our hope that funding for DATE will be increased in the next legislative session and the state can provide some seed money to help districts get started with TAP implementation.” Districts that partnered with TAP to get a federal TIF grant were given priority for the remaining DATE funds.

There have been other changes to the program, too. UT’s Institute for Public School Initiatives is no longer a TAP partner so TAPs office has moved. Region 18 is TAP’s new partner and houses TAP’s 22-member state-level support and administrative team while Kreuz remains in Austin.

Building momentum

Texas TAP currently works with 15 districts. Those districts serve 46,000 students, 70 percent of them economically disadvantaged, and employ 3,000 teachers. Funding hiccups aside, Texas TAP’s growth has been steady since it launched in 2005-06.

And Texas TAP still provides the same level of support for the program with a growing team of professionals doing monthly site visits and providing telephone and e-mail assistance to district leaders. “The goal of the state-level Texas TAP team is to ensure that the schools are implementing TAP with the highest degree of fidelity. Based on experience, we know that when schools implement the TAP model with rigor, they will get results,” Kreuz said.

Kreuz has led Texas TAP since the beginning and envisions a bright future for the program. “I would love to see every campus in the state be a TAP school…If, in the next three to five years, TAP could be the state reform model for struggling schools, that would be a huge victory because we know that it works,” Kreuz said.

District launches TAP as state education funds, DATE funds get cut

New Caney ISD was neck deep in the TAP planning process during the last legislative session, and, like many others, just didn’t see such large state funding cuts coming. “It was before we knew the full effects of what the legislature would do, so quite honestly, we didn’t know how far finances were going to roll downhill. There was still some optimism that things were going to turn out differently,” said John Emerich, New Caney’s executive director of administration. Read more...

TAP’s ability to turn schools around has made most of its Texas districts true believers. As we reported in our initial coverage of TAP the program is unique in showing significant, measurable improvement in student results—a feat few other reform programs can match.

More recent results validate TAP’s Texas success story. In 2010-11, more than 85 percent of Texas TAP schools met or exceeded expected student growth levels using a value-added model. In terms of state accountability ratings, 41 of 46 schools in the program were rated academically acceptable, recognized, or exemplary.

Teachers are used to seeing reforms come and go and may not be 100 percent sold on TAP initially, though each campus votes to determine whether or not they want to implement the program. Based on their responses to Texas TAP survey questions, teachers in the program also become believers:

  • More than 92 percent of teachers said that compared to last year, they feel they are a more effective teacher.
  • More than 95 percent of teachers said that the TAP skills, knowledge, and responsibility rubrics accurately define what is important in instruction.
  • More than 90 percent of teachers indicated that the TAP teacher evaluation system leads to higher student achievement.
  • More than 86 percent of teachers said they have had success putting TAP strategies in place in their content areas.
  • More than 82 percent said that as a result of TAP, they participate more actively in professional development to improve their performance.

The true proof of teacher satisfaction with the program might be found in another statistic: the teacher retention rate. The collaborative and supportive nature of TAP can be a game changer for schools with high teacher turnover, which is often an issue in underperforming schools. The average teacher retention rate in Texas TAP schools is an impressive 91 percent.

Changing course

Late last year, the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET), TAP’s creator and partner, decided to modify the way it operates to allow states and districts to use the program’s teacher evaluation system without adopting the program as a whole. Kreuz believes that allowing the use of the evaluation model and providing the technical support to make it work could help TAP get a foot in the door with states and districts and eventually lead to a great expansion in districts adopting the full program. The state of Tennessee was the first to get on board, with all districts using TAP evaluations as their teacher evaluation model.

The Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) decision to revise its teacher evaluation model could head in a similar direction. In its quest for an updated, research-based model, TEA could choose the TAP teacher evaluation system to replace the Professional Development and Appraisal System (PDAS). TEA also wants a system that will more clearly differentiate teacher performance, and TAP’s evaluation system fits the bill on all counts.
 

Ensuring sustainability

The long-term goal is for districts to be able to sustain TAP on their own. That means committing the funds, providing the necessary training, and adhering to the program model to ensure continued success. That hasn’t been the case thus far. “We’re just not at a place where we can turn it over,” Kreuz said. “If we were to go away right now, I would worry about the fidelity of implementation.”

Kreuz sees a time coming when some established districts could get by with a lower level of on-site support, but adds that they regularly seek out TAP help and support. “Because many of the individuals in schools move through the career pathway, every year there are new individuals to train,” Kreuz said.

For example, TAP staff just did a training session in Bryan ISD, one of the very first Texas TAP districts. The district needed to refresh the skills of some of the program’s veterans and train new people who moved into new positions as a result of turnover.

Small districts may always need TAP to do the number crunching work of calculating teacher value-added scores and determining performance bonuses. TAP staff does both of those things for all participating districts.

In terms of funding, fifth-year TAP districts seem to be doing what they need to do to ensure they can pay for the program long term. “We are pleased that 100 percent of the TAP schools that are finishing a five-year TIF grant in 2012 will be sustaining TAP with existing funding at the local level,” Kreuz said, noting that many of those districts chose to reallocate funds from other existing programs and initiatives that may not have been as effective as TAP.

Celebrating successes

In the meantime, lots of veteran TAP districts have had significant successes to celebrate. Lancaster ISD, one of two districts in the state to implement TAP districtwide, received the TAP Award of Distinction from NIET at the 12th National TAP Conference held in March. The district has experienced significant student achievement growth since it adopted the program in 2007-08. Kreuz notes that other districts have plans to adopt TAP districtwide.

New Caney ISD’s Aikin Elementary received the TAP School of Promise Award at the same conference. The school was one of four nationwide to receive the award for its demonstrated efforts as it put TAP in place.

A Pflugerville ISD teacher who is also a TAP master teacher received the sole Texas 2012 Milken Educator Award. In 2010, Pflugerville ISD took on the largest scale implementation of TAP in the state, with nine of the district’s schools getting on board.

Moving forward

More grant funding is likely to be available soon. Kreuz notes that the goals of TIF grants align closely with the TAP system and that Texas TAP has scored very well in past TIF grant competitions. With the 2012 TIF deadline approaching, she’s confident Texas TAP will get another grant. “We anticipate that we will have a strong opportunity to secure additional funds in future TIF grant competitions to expand TAP in Texas,” Kreuz said.