An update on Texas’ pilot teacher and principal evaluation models

As this school year kicks off, more than 250 Texas school districts will pilot test the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS), the Texas Principal Evaluation and Support System (T-PESS), or both. T-TESS will replace the current model, the Professional Development and Appraisal System (PDAS).
Tim Regal, the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) director of educator evaluation and support, and Lauralee Pankonien, senior coordinator for educator quality at Region XIII, briefed TASB, TASPA, TASBO, and TASA staff on the progress of the pilot in late August.
Sixty-five districts participated in the 2014‒15 pilot of the new teacher or principal evaluation system (or both). This year, 252 school districts are pilot testing one or both systems. In 2016‒17, the official roll-out year for the system, almost all (1,036) Texas school districts have indicated their intent to use them, according to district responses to ESC surveys.

Changing the appraisal culture

The new teacher evaluation system is intended to be collaborative and calls for more interaction between evaluators and teachers. Regal and Pankonien stressed that T-TESS focuses on developing educators at all levels and encourages educators to self-assess and reflect on their practice on a regular basis. “[Teachers] are part of this process,” Pankonien said.  “It’s not a one-directional thing.”
At the heart of T-TESS is a research-based rubric that attempts to capture the skills teachers use in their practice across all performance levels. The initial test of the rubric has shown that districts that closely adhere to it find that their teacher ratings are more standardized and objective than under PDAS.
Evaluators have noted that the rubric ratings are evidence based with more focus on students. The rubric defines what a each level of the teaching practice looks like.
Evaluators go through three days of teacher observation training using video clips to learn to analyze and categorize teacher performance levels according to the rubric. Teachers go through an abbreviated version of that training so they can see for themselves how the rubric works.
Appraisals are intended to be part of a process of continuous improvement. In addition to an optional preconference, evaluators will conduct an observation, and hold a post-observation conference and end-of-year conference with the teacher. At that end-of-year conference, teachers work with the evaluator to set goals for the next year and discuss the professional development they need. Summative ratings come after that final conference.

Measuring student learning

In 2017‒18, districts will incorporate student growth measures into their evaluations that may include student learning objectives, value-added measures on standardized tests, portfolios, and district pre- and post-tests. Student growth data, like observation feedback, is intended to help teachers and evaluators make more informed professional development decisions.
The student growth measures used will be a district decision and will account for 20 percent of a teacher’s overall rating.

The principal process

There is no simple way to observe a principal to determine whether he or she is doing a good job, so observations are not part of T-PESS. Principals meet with their evaluators and discuss how things have gone and compare their results with the principal rubric, capturing the effective practices of high-performers.
One thing that is built into the new model principal appraisal process is that the teacher appraisal results on a principal’s campus have to reflect the reality on that campus. That also means that teachers who’ve always been rated as “exceeds expectations” might have to recalibrate their expectations under the new system. “We took what used to be ‘exceeds expectations’ and moved it to the middle,” Pankonien said. Helping experienced teachers to understand that being ranked “proficient” in the new system doesn’t mean their performance has declined will be one challenge that evaluators face.

Putting in the time

“This will take more time,” Pankonien said. “It’s not going to go as quickly as PDAS. The preconference can take up to an hour.” For principals in small districts, the additional time commitment might be a tough sell, but the process gets easier and quicker with experience.