Appraisals & Evaluations During Coronavirus-Related School Closure

COVID-19 and the resulting school closure have disrupted nearly every facet of public education. Teachers and other district staff may wonder how their evaluations will take place as they are not on campus. The Texas Education Agency has released guidance to school districts that explains the positions taken by TEA and the commissioner of education. ATPE has summarized the guidance here.

Locally developed appraisal systems are largely locally controlled. As such, to a large degree, they can always be modified locally by action of the local school board. This means much of TEA’s guidance applies to educators working in districts that have adopted the T-TESS and T-PESS appraisal systems.

Teacher appraisals may be waived, but they may also be completed.

TEA has stated the commissioner may waive T-TESS and T-PESS educator appraisal requirements for districts unable to meet the legal requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This means a district may simply not complete appraisals for the year, but it also means, as described below, a district may simply skip steps of the appraisal process that would be otherwise required.  It is a local decision as to whether there is need to request a waiver. Again, districts using locally developed educator appraisals can, with school board approval, determine locally if the process needs to be changed. Non-certified public school employee evaluations are always up to local discretion, so a district can modify the evaluation process as it deems appropriate.

A teacher can be evaluated, even if not every appraisal step has been completed.

The guidance states a district can evaluate a teacher based on however many steps of the appraisal process that have been completed. The guidance also states a teacher may challenge an appraisal regardless of the existence of a waiver. In developing the T-TESS, TEA recognized that all steps of the appraisal process are important. The agency was not simply creating “busy work” for appraisers and teachers. TEA also recognized the importance of educators’ ability to respond to an appraisal.  The guidance is largely silent on how a challenge, based on the fact steps were not completed, would fare.

The guidance addresses a teacher’s request for a second appraisal specifically. The guidance states:

“Due to the circumstances related to COVID-19, a district would not be able to grant a request for a second observation, and its inability to do so would be covered under a waiver. A request for a second appraiser that is based purely on existing data, however, would be possible and thus would be granted.”

It is not clear, practically, what this means. The Texas Education Code provides that “[a]fter receiving a written copy of the evaluation, a teacher is entitled to a second appraisal by a different appraiser or to submit a written rebuttal to the evaluation to be attached to the evaluation in the teacher's personnel file” [Texas Education Code 21.352 (c)]. It seems unlikely the commissioner intends the second appraiser to simply review the initial appraisal’s documentation and base the second appraisal on that review. However, as the guidance acknowledges, a full second appraisal, including the usual second, independent observation, would not be possible; it is not clear how else a second appraisal could be conducted.

Post-observation conferences and end-of-year conferences can be conducted remotely or not occur at all.

The guidance states the required conferences can be conducted through video or phone conference because the T-TESS and T-PESS rules do not themselves require an in-person conference. However, the guidance goes a step further, also stating that once granted a waiver, the conferences can be skipped entirely. It is, again, unclear how this would affect the validity of an educator’s final appraisal document.

A district can use information gathered throughout the year to support a decision to non-renew an educator’s contract, even if the appraisal process has not been completed.

The guidance states that information regarding an educator’s performance gathered through the year can be used to support a district’s decision to non-renew the educator’s contract—and, actually, this is not a new position. The commissioner of education has long held a district could make a contract decision before the appraisal process is completed. The Texas Education Code states the school board should consider the last appraisal in making its decision, but it does not require the current year’s appraisal to be completed.