August 2017, Vol. 2

T-TESS—A year in review

by Karen Dooley
 
The first year of Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS) is behind us.

Common questions at the conclusion of the first year include:
  • How did the first year of implementation go?
  • What questions have been posed the most?
  • What changes are occurring for 2017–2018?
Staff at TASB HR Services conducted a roundtable discussion at the Texas Association of School Personnel Administrators (TASPA) summer conference that included several districts from around the state. We also had an in-depth conversation with Linda Johnson, who coordinates T-TESS implementation at the Texas Education Agency (TEA), to debrief.

Q: How did the first year of statewide implementation go?

A: Overall, this year has been relatively quiet. This can be attributed in part to many districts participating in the pilot year in 2014–2015 and refinement year in 2015–2016. Another contributing factor was the training provided to staff responsible for conducting the appraisals. For the most part, the process worked as presented in the trainings, so there were no surprises. Staff knew from the beginning the similarities and differences between Professional Development Appraisal System and T-TESS and the increased time T-TESS would take, if implemented with fidelity.

Q: PDAS provided a Teacher in Need of Assistance (TINA) intervention plan for teachers struggling in the classroom. What does an administrator do for the struggling teacher with T-TESS?

A: One of the striking differences in PDAS and T-TESS is the approach to appraising a teacher. The focus of T-TESS is on growth and development. Goals are initially set but are meant to be adjusted based on an individual teacher’s needs. Opportunities for improvement are to be given with evidence provided throughout the appraisal cycle to indicate whether growth is occurring or not. If it is not occurring, a communication trail should be maintained that documents the support provided to the teacher and the expectations that have been communicated. A coaching log is a good example of a tool that may be used to accomplish this.

Ultimately, the appraiser has the option to add and refine goals as needed. The goals for the teacher should be aligned to the teacher’s areas needing improvement which ideally should be developed through a collaborative process, but can be developed through a more directive driven process if the situation warrants.

Q: T-TESS requires far more time to conduct than did PDAS. Are there any changes planned by TEA that will help reduce the amount of time required?

A: Unfortunately, no relief is in sight for the amount of time required to administer T-TESS. This same concern was frequently discussed during the pilot year and the refinement year. Most pilot districts reported the second year was remarkably better. For the most part, this is due to better organizational tactics being used by the appraisers and better understanding of what to expect in year two. Realizing the importance of setting ample time for tasks is key.

Q: Is student growth a requirement for the 2017–2018 school year?

A: Yes, student growth is required for the 2017–2018 school year but may be piloted if a district submits a waiver to TEA. Commissioner Mike Morath sent out a “To the Administrator Addressed” memo on May 10, 2017, on this topic. In the memo, he stated “…all components of T-TESS and the minimum requirements for locally adopted systems currently captured in the Texas Administrative Code (TAC) Chapter 150 remain in place. A student growth measure at the individual teacher level is still a necessary component for both T-TESS and locally adopted systems.”

Originally, four types of growth measures were presented. The commissioner has since clarified that a district may pursue any valid student growth measure they choose. A district may elect a variety of methods to inform the impact of instruction. According to the commissioner, “different districts can choose different approaches, and an individual district can use different methods for different types of teachers or classes.”

If a district chooses to provide a summative rating, student growth must account for 20 percent of the score. If ratings are disaggregated, student growth does not technically have a weight and instead is treated as the 17th dimension.

If chosen as the student growth measure, Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) should fit with practices already in place at campuses. Teachers are accustomed to measuring student success and making instructional adjustments when needed. Teachers experience diffculties in varying areas, while others don't struggle at all. TEA is developing a fillable PDF tool that can be used to help administrators schedule time for observations and discussions with staff regarding SLOs. This tool is scheduled to be available mid-August. A variety of resources are currently available through ESCs to help administrators strengthen coaching capacity and build confidence when supporting instruction across content areas. TEA is also working on expanding the resources available for developing and supporting instructional leadership.

Q: Are any adjustments being made to Texas Principal Evaluation and Support System (T-PESS)?

A: Refinement of T-PESS is currently in progress. Revising and improving existing forms to provide more support to principals, as is evident in T-TESS for teachers, is the main focus. Conversations between TEA and district administrators occurred throughout this past school year to determine if the appraisal instrument was working as it was intended. These conversations are being reviewed in this refinement process.

As a reminder, student growth is a required component of the principal evaluation starting with the 2017–2018 school year. The waiver being used for T-TESS does not apply to T-PESS. A half-day or full-day refresher training is being provided by ESCs for navigating student growth. The full-day is recommended for districts who did not fully implement T-PESS during the 2016–2017 school year and the half-day is for those who did.

Scoring of student growth on T-PESS is similar to T-TESS with minor differences. If a district reports the ratings at the indicator level, student growth serves as an additional indicator. If the district reports a single summative rating, student growth must count for a percentage of the overall rating, and that percentage will change over the first few years of the principal’s experience at the campus.

Tying it all together

T-TESS was intended to engage teachers in a cycle of continuous improvement. Collaborative and coaching conversations should take place at the campus level resulting in the ability of a teacher to reflect, self-assess, and adjust instructional practices. The addition of student growth provides another opportunity for feedback to teachers as they impact student learning.

T-PESS provides a structure for principals to identify their professional growth and development needs. The principal’s appraiser is able to provide constructive feedback while nurturing improvement and supporting the principal by identifying performance strengths and gaps.