Your Observation Questions Answered
By: ATPE Legal Team
Stepping into your classroom at the beginning of every year brings a rush of emotions, thoughts, and practices—how to best set up your space for learning, welcoming new students, and setting expectations for both yourself and your students. Expectations often relate to observations and evaluations, but your performance appraisal doesn’t have to be another stressor in your life. In this feature, ATPE’s legal team provides answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the T-TESS system (the most common appraisal system in Texas) to help you start the year off right. You can refer to this guide throughout the year!
What is the T-TESS?
The Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (known as the T-TESS) is the most common tool used to evaluate Texas public school teachers.
The T-TESS has three main components:
• teacher and appraiser collaboration on the establishment of goals and a professional development plan;
• the evaluation cycle that consists of a pre-conference (if the observation is announced), observation(s), and a post-conference;
• and one or more of the four student growth measure options.
The appraisal is based on four domains and a total of 16 dimensions falling under the four domains, all of which are aligned with the Texas Teacher Standards.
Are pre-observation conferences required?
The T-TESS requires pre-observation conferences only for announced observations. Whether you receive advance notice depends on your district.
Even if a pre-conference is not required, it is a good idea to request one. This gives you an opportunity to find out what your appraiser is going to be looking for and to discuss any challenges you have dealt with and what you have done to tackle them. For unannounced observations, you will need to know when your appraiser is likely to start doing observations in order to get in your request for a pre-conference ahead of time.
What should I expect in the post-observation conference?
A post-observation conference between teacher and appraiser is required after the formal, 45-minute observation but not for less formal observations, like walk-through observations. When required, the conference must:
• Be conducted within 10 working days of the observation.
• Be diagnostic and prescriptive in nature.
• Include a written observation report for each dimension observed. This written report should be presented to the teacher only after a discussion of the “areas of refinement or reinforcement” and can, “at the discretion of the appraiser,” allow for a revision to an “area of refinement or reinforcement.”
What are my response options?
Sometimes, even after the post-observation conference, you may not agree with the appraiser’s observation report and may feel the need to respond. The T-TESS allows for a written response and a request for a second appraiser.
You may submit a written response or rebuttal to record your disagreement with the scores, descriptions, or comments contained in any document relating to your performance or to request a second appraisal by a different certified appraiser. These requests must be submitted within 10 working days after receiving:
• a written observation report or any written documentation relating to Domains I, II, or III; or
• a written summative annual appraisal report that contains information relating to Domain IV or the performance of your students.
However, T-TESS rules state you may not submit a written response to a written summative annual appraisal report or a request for a new appraiser if (a) the ratings or information are the same as that provided earlier in an observation report or other documentation and (b) you did not submit a response at that time.
Timing matters. You cannot safely “wait and see” if scores improve on the summative report. Waiting to submit a response could cause you to lose the right to respond at all.
Can my appraiser require me to put specific things in my Goal-Setting and Professional Development Plan?
In most cases, yes. The T-TESS rules state that the appraiser must approve the plan. Practically, this gives the appraiser “veto” authority. If the appraiser is the principal or someone who has the general authority to give a directive, they have the right to require particular provisions in the plan. But you might have a legitimate complaint if the requirement is not reasonable.
Can I be observed the day before a holiday?
The T-TESS rules require the local district to develop an observation calendar. Formal observations are prohibited in the two weeks after a teacher’s initial orientation, and all formal observations must be completed at least 15 working days before the last day of student instruction. Individual districts can prohibit observations on other days, like the day before a holiday, in their local policy.
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. The Texas Education Code allows a district to use either the commissioner-approved evaluation system or a locally adopted system. A District of Innovation can opt out of appraisals entirely or adopt any form of appraisal.
Do student test scores have to be a part of my evaluation under the T-TESS?
No, they do not. Perhaps the most publicized new element of the T-TESS was the inclusion of a student growth measure as a component of the evaluation. Student performance has long been a required element in teacher evaluations, but the initial rules by the commissioner required that districts utilize one or more of four specific methods. The requirement was controversial because one of the options was for districts to use value-added data based on student state assessment results. This has never been accepted as a scientifically legitimate measure of teacher performance.
In response to legal action taken by ATPE and other educator groups, the commissioner’s rules were changed, allowing, as in the past, for a district to determine locally how it will measure student performance.
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 to know your district’s policy.
What are some best practices to help me make the most of my observation?
Start the year off by working with your students to create standards and expectations for class behavior. The T-TESS is all about student engagement in the learning process, and that includes the classroom environment. After you and your class have determined your expectations, create a poster or document that you can refer to in class so the appraiser can see that you’ve worked with the students on classroom management. Of course, be sure that your class rules are consistent with the student code of conduct and any other campus or district policy, and check with your administrator if you think something might be controversial. Be sure to describe the student involvement to your appraiser in your goal-setting conference, pre-conference (if you have one), or some other appropriate time.
Use your goal-setting conference or pre-conference to discuss with your appraiser what they’ll be looking for in terms of student involvement. The T-TESS training and scoring rubric emphasizes student involvement in the learning process but provides little practical guidance. You may have received more specific instructions during your T-TESS orientation on how to incorporate students into your planning and classroom. But expectations will differ depending on your appraiser and subject matter.
Still have questions about your own appraisal? The information presented in this article is accurate as of the time of publication, but the rules can change. Eligible ATPE members can contact the ATPE legal team with questions or to request assistance regarding their appraisals or other employment-related matters.
The legal information provided here is accurate as of the date of publication. It is provided for general purposes only. Individual legal situations vary greatly, and readers needing individual legal advice should consult directly with an attorney. Eligible ATPE members may contact the ATPE Member Legal Services Department.