While the Commissioner’s general waiver authority may allow school districts and charter schools to file a waiver for exemption from some aspects of educator appraisals, careful consideration should be given to this action. Pros and cons of filing a waiver should be analyzed to avoid unintended consequences.
Filing a waiver
Pros—A district may choose to file a waiver because it is unable to fairly appraise each individual based on unfinished aspects of the appraisal process. With the suspension of the state assessments, data won’t be available to accurately appraise the student achievement component.
Discontinuing aspects of the appraisal process may provide a mediocre teacher an extended opportunity to improve performance in the next school year to better support student learning. However, an appropriate amount of evidence may already have been collected to continue with a contract nonrenewal or termination for a struggling teacher.
If all aspects other than the summative conference and goal setting have been conducted, the district may complete these components remotely. An adapted appraisal process that eliminates any further formal or informal observations may provide relief to educators as they tackle the challenges of a changed instructional arrangement.
Cons—A waiver stops collection and inclusion of additional data. Data collected prior to the filing of the waiver becomes the complete record for the year. Existing data may not provide enough evidence to support a contract nonrenewal or termination.
Filing a waiver will impact preparation for the following school year. For example, many districts were working on designing their Local Optional Teacher Designation System (LOTDS) and preparing an application for the Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA). By not completing aspects of the appraisal process, the development of the LOTDS may be delayed.
Foregoing the waiver process
Pros—The end of March is the conclusion of a typical appraisal calendar. Districts may have some formal observations that were in progress at the time schools were closed. School districts may be able to complete the appraisal process for most educators using the information and data collected up to this point.
A waiver may not be needed since post-conferences and end-of-year conferences, including goal setting, may be completed by phone or video conferencing.
Cons—Quick implementation of the remote learning environment has limited the amount of training educators have received. Completing a fair formal observation in the new setting may not provide an accurate assessment of the educator’s performance.
A more complete collection of evidence may be available for some educators compared to others. To promote fairness and avoid arbitrary results, the district should make best efforts to use comparable evidence for all educators.
Districts of innovation
Some school districts have exempted themselves from T-TESS and T-PESS in their district of innovation plans. If the district of innovation plan exempts the district from all provisions in the education code related to appraisals, then the TEA waiver process isn’t applicable. If flexibility for changing the process isn’t included in the plan, these districts may need to take board action to forego some aspects of their locally designed appraisal system.
Districts of innovation with an appraisal exemption should analyze their current innovation plans to ensure that the district is exempt from all applicable appraisal statutes. If the plan does not provide for a complete exemption, districts may want to file a waiver request for exemption from aspects of the appraisal process not covered by the plan. If the innovation plan covers all appraisals, the district should determine how to complete the appraisal process or adapt it to meet the current delivery of instruction.
As challenges of COVID-19 continue, school districts must remember the benefit of being flexible, understanding, and patient. A plan that best serves the students and educators of your district is probably the best route to take. This will look different from one district to another, but careful planning will ensure your approach will benefit everyone you serve.
Karen Dooley is a senior HR consultant at TASB HR Services. Send Karen an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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