In this edition of our series on the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS), we’d like to address some of the questions, concerns, and misunderstandings that have arisen over the new teacher evaluation system. As you’ll learn below, some of these are myths, some are fact-based, and some are a more complicated combination of the two.
Do all teachers have to be evaluated using the T-TESS?
No, they do not. The Texas Education Code does require that teachers and certified administrators be evaluated, but the T-TESS is only one evaluation option. The T-TESS was developed by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and approved by the commissioner of education. It replaces the Professional Development and Appraisal System (PDAS), which was developed by the TEA and approved by the commissioner of education in the late 1990s. The Texas Education Code allows a district to use either the commissioner-approved evaluation system OR a locally adopted system. Approximately 90 percent of districts statewide used the PDAS. We do not know how many districts will use the T-TESS, but we expect that it will be fewer than used the PDAS for a couple of reasons:
- The T-TESS appears to be more controversial than the PDAS, so we expect more districts to choose a local option.
- Districts that choose to become Districts of Innovation can opt out of teacher evaluations entirely.
Do student test scores have to be a part of a teacher’s evaluation under the T-TESS?
No, they do not. The Texas Education Code has for many years required that teacher appraisals include “the performance of teachers’ students” as a component of the evaluation. The T-TESS requires that districts use one of four methods of judging student test scores:
- Student learning objectives (SLOs);
- Student portfolios;
- Pre- and post-test results on district-level assessments; or
- Value-added data based on student state assessments.
The commissioner has authorized locally created and adopted appraisal systems as long as these systems also use one of these four methods. However, these rules may change and no longer apply to locally adopted appraisal systems.
The fourth option, which uses value-added measures (VAMs) of student growth based on state assessment scores, is the most controversial, since experts have stated that state assessment scores do not accurately reflect teaching quality. It is also less likely that a district would use this option because individual districts have to pay to develop their own system to interpret value-added data, and this can be very expensive.
Some larger school districts do already have VAM data built into their own evaluation systems and may continue to use those. More districts may use evaluation criteria that differ from T-TESS requirements, especially with the rapid growth in the number of districts becoming Districts of Innovation and opting to exempt themselves from the law.
Does the T-TESS take more work and time than the PDAS?
Yes. The T-TESS has substantially more required documentation built into the process, so it will take more time than the PDAS did for both teachers and appraisers. This begins with the required goal-setting document but continues to one degree or another with each step of the process. The concern over the time devoted by both teacher and appraiser was raised by representatives of ATPE and other organizations during the development process.
The time component is only amplified by the fact that teachers receive higher ratings (distinguished and accomplished) based on documentation of their plans and performance. The Goal Setting and Professional Development Plan is also considered a “living” document requiring continuous revision depending on student feedback/success, appraiser feedback, and teacher development.
Is the T-TESS designed to make teachers look less successful?
The concern that the T-TESS was intended to make teachers look less successful is largely based on the change from the PDAS’s four performance levels (exemplary, proficient, below expectations, unsatisfactory) to the T-TESS’s five performance levels (distinguished, accomplished, proficient, developing, and improvement needed). Rumors swirled during the introduction of the T-TESS that “developing” would be the new “proficient,” the default score for a teacher who was doing all that was expected. This may have stemmed from the fact that the T-TESS was designed with the philosophy that teachers, as professionals, should constantly improve their skills as they gain experience, so the great majority of teachers would be “developing,” meaning they were still improving.
The T-TESS rubric provides specific descriptors that fall into each dimension within the four T-TESS domains. Performance that would rate a “proficient” score under the PDAS should rate a “proficient” score on many dimensions under the T-TESS, as well. However, in some cases, what would have been “proficient” for a criterion under PDAS is more similar to “developing” for a dimension under the T-TESS. We will have to wait to see what actual appraisers do.
Will my T-TESS score affect my salary or whether I will get a raise?
Possibly. The T-TESS rules do not address salary or performance-based raises. However, a school district is not prohibited by state law, TEA rules, or the commissioner’s rules from developing a local policy that ties compensation to appraisal scores. In fact, a few districts around the state have begun to tie scores to salaries and raises. Most commonly, school boards give raises only to teachers who score a certain way on the previous school year’s evaluation. Since it is a local decision, it’s important for teachers to know their local policies.
Check back on the ATPE Blog as the year progresses for more T-TESS tips. For more information, see our T-TESS Resource Page. For more T-TESS articles, see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of our Navigating the T-TESS series.
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