Evaluations and Responses
What you need to know about teacher appraisals and evaluations for other staff
All classroom teachers must be appraised (the commonly used term for an annual performance evaluation) on the basis of classroom teaching performance using either the TEA-approved Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS) or a locally developed system, unless their employing district has opted out of appraisals through a locally adopted District of Innovation plan. Very few districts have done so, which means most teachers can expect to receive an annual appraisal consistent with the requirements described below.
- A teacher must be appraised at least once each year, with one exception. If a teacher was rated as at least proficient or the equivalent on their most recent appraisal and that appraisal did not identify any area of deficiency, a district may provide the teacher with the option to agree to less frequent appraisals.
- For districts using T-TESS, this means the teacher must have been rated at least proficient in all domains on their most recent appraisal.
- The teacher must agree in writing to the less frequent appraisals, and the teacher must still be appraised at least once every five years.
- Districts providing qualifying teachers with the option for less frequent appraisals may specify additional local requirements and procedures in policy. For example, a district’s policy may include a process for placing a teacher back on a traditional appraisal cycle as a result of documented performance deficiencies. Additionally, a district may establish a procedure for annually reviewing and modifying teacher agreements for less frequent appraisals.
- Districts can offer qualifying teachers the option of less frequent appraisals, but the law does not require districts to do so. Districts may modify appraisal options in board policy.
- The teacher may be given advanced notice of the date and/or time of appraisal, but such notice is not legally required.
- The appraisal’s performance criteria must be based on observable, job-related behavior, including implementation of discipline management procedures and student performance.
- Extracurricular activities cannot be evaluated on the teacher appraisal. However, performance of those duties may be evaluated separately.
- The appraisal process must include a teacher/appraiser conference that is diagnostic as well as prescriptive regarding teacher professional development and improvement.
- A written copy of the teacher’s appraisal must be made available to the teacher and maintained in the teacher’s personnel file.
- A teacher has the right to file a grievance over an appraisal, regardless of the type of appraisal system being used by the district.
Texas implemented the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS) during the 2016-17 school year. Districts have the option to evaluate educators using either T-TESS or a locally developed system. Most school districts use T-TESS.
The T-TESS has three main components:
- Teacher and appraiser collaboration to establish a goal setting and professional development plan
- An evaluation cycle consisting of a pre-conference, observation(s), and a post-conference
- One or more of four student growth measure options
The appraisal is based on four general areas or “domains” and a total of 16 specific “dimensions” under the four domains, all of which align with the Texas Teacher Standards. The TEA T-TESS information and resource clearinghouse offers a more in-depth understanding of the system.
Student Growth Measure
T-TESS includes a student growth measure as an evaluation component. Student performance has long been a required element in teacher evaluations, but initial commissioner rules required districts to use one or more of four specific methods. The requirement was controversial as one option was the use of value-added data based on student state assessment results—something that 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 districts to determine locally how they will measure student performance.
Developing and Proficient: What is the standard for “doing OK”?Each teacher is given an evaluation rating for each dimension of distinguished, accomplished, proficient, developing, or improvement needed. There has been some ambiguity regarding whether a teacher performing a satisfactory job should be rated “developing,” because nearly all professionals are developing their skills in some way, or “proficient,” because doing a satisfactory job would reasonably be considered synonymous with being “proficient.” The overall philosophy of T-TESS being a professional growth tool rather than a “gotcha” would imply that these distinctions should not be significant.
Goal Setting and Professional Development Plan (GSPDP)Every T-TESS appraisal includes a teacher-submitted and appraiser-approved Goal Setting and Professional Development Plan (GSPDP). For teachers new to the district or T-TESS, a GSPDP conference with the appraiser must take place before the teacher develops the GSPDP. The T-TESS guide recommends a conference be held sometime early each year to review the GSPDP, but the rules do not require it. The GSPDP must be:
- Submitted to the appraiser within the first six weeks of the date of a teacher’s T-TESS orientation or, for teachers after their first year under T-TESS, drafted in conjunction with the teacher’s end-of-year conference from the previous year, revised as needed, and submitted to the appraiser within the first six weeks of instruction.
- Maintained by the teacher throughout the school year to track progress toward goals and participation in professional development.
- Shared with the appraiser before the end-of-year conference and used to determine ratings for the goal setting and professional development dimensions of the T-TESS rubric.
While the GSPDP is collaborative, the appraiser, as a supervisor, can direct a teacher to include or exclude specific goals in the teacher’s plan.Observation Pre-Conference
An observation pre-conference between teacher and appraiser is required only for announced observations. The T-TESS rules allow but do not require announced observations, so whether a pre-conference is required is going to depend on whether observations are announced under local policy or practice.
The pre-conference allows the educator an opportunity to show the depth of planning and consideration in class preparations and provides time to alert the appraiser to ongoing issues or concerns about the lesson.Observations
The T-TESS requires a 45-minute observation, which can be broken into shorter periods by agreement. The appraiser can also perform additional formal or informal observations, commonly referred to as “walk-throughs,” at the appraiser’s discretion. T-TESS rules state that observations can be planned or unannounced. Decisions on “blackout” days are made locally, except that an observation cannot occur for two weeks after a teacher’s orientation, and the observation calendar must end at least 15 working days before the last day of student instruction.Post-Observation Conference
A post-observation conference is required after the formal, 45-minute observation but is not required for other observations. 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 report is only presented to the teacher 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.”
An end-of-year conference with the appraiser is required, and it must:
- Be held no later than 15 working days before the last student instructional day.
- Focus on data and evidence gathered throughout the appraisal year, the teacher’s efforts related to Domain IV, student performance, and potential goals and professional development plans for the next school year. Domain IV will not be scored until this conference.
The T-TESS appraisal includes a final performance review document, named a summative report, that must be shared with the teacher no more than 10 working days following the end-of-year conference and must be shared no later than 15 working days before the last day of student instruction.Appraisal Documentation
As noted, the T-TESS includes two required written documents: the observation report, based on the 45-minute observation, and the summative annual report, based on an evaluation of the observation report and any other data from the school year.
In addition to these two required reports, the appraiser is required to document informal “walk-through” observations if the information could affect the appraisal. Documentation, if created, must be shared with the teacher within 10 working days of the “walk-though” informal observation.
The appraiser can also consider any other “cumulative data” documentation, such as reprimands, write-ups, reminders, or other documents that touch on performance. The appraiser is required to “verify and document” any information that comes from third parties, such as students, parents, other teachers, or administrators.
Teacher Response Options
A Written ResponseA teacher may submit a written response or rebuttal to document disagreement with the scores, descriptions, or comments contained in any document relating to their performance within 10 working days:
- After receiving a written observation report or any written documentation relating to Domains I, II, or III.
- After receiving a written summative annual appraisal report that contains information relating to Domain IV or the performance of the teacher’s students.
A teacher may not submit a written response or rebuttal to a written summative annual appraisal report if the ratings or information are the same as that provided to the teacher earlier in an observation report or other documentation and the teacher did not submit a response or rebuttal at that time.
What this means: A teacher is not able to safely “wait and see” if scores improve on the summative report. By doing so, a teacher might lose the right to respond at all.A Request for a Second Appraisal
A teacher may submit a written request for a second appraisal by a different certified appraiser within 10 working days of receiving:
- A written observation report relating to Domains I, II, or III.
- A written summative annual appraisal report containing information relating to Domain IV or the performance of the teacher’s students.
Like the restriction placed on the written rebuttal, a teacher may not submit a request for a second appraisal after receiving a written summative annual appraisal report if the ratings or information are the same as that provided to the teacher earlier in an observation report and the teacher did not submit a request for a second appraisal by a different appraiser at that time.
Again, this means a teacher is not able to safely “wait and see” if scores improve on the summative report.
Each district has been required to adopt written policies and procedures locally determining how second appraisers are selected. The T-TESS rules do not require any specific process. As such, there is no guarantee of second appraiser independence or objectivity. The second appraiser must make observations and walk-throughs as necessary to evaluate the dimensions in Domains I-III. The rules do not specifically state that a second 45-minute observation is required. The second appraiser must also review the GSPDP and may also review any other relevant cumulative data in completing the second appraisal.
The T-TESS rules do not define how the first and second appraisal relate to one another (for instance, whether they are treated equally, one is weighted differently, or if they are combined). This is determined under local policy.
A teacher may file a grievance regarding an unsatisfactory appraisal result under the local grievance policy.
Specific rules, timelines, and procedures will be found in written district policy.
Instead of the T-TESS, some districts use locally approved appraisal instruments and processes developed by their district- and campus-level planning and decision-making committees. Any modification to T-TESS creates a local appraisal system.
Local appraisal systems must:
- Be developed by district- and campus-level committees.
- Contain criteria related to discipline management and student performance.
- Provide for a teacher/appraiser conference.
- Be adopted by the local school board.
The locally developed system must provide the teacher with the following options upon receipt of a written copy of an appraisal with which the teacher disagrees:
- The right to request a second appraisal by a different appraiser
- The right to submit a written response/rebuttal for attachment to the appraisal
- The right to file a grievance over the appraisal
Specific rules and timelines for a local appraisal process will be found in the district’s local appraisal policy. Procedures and timelines for filing a grievance will be found in the district’s local grievance policy.
Districts employing counselors must establish a school counselor job description that complies with state law and an evaluation system based on the duties of a school counselor as specified in Section 33.006 of the Texas Education Code. Section 21.356 of the Texas Education Code requires that the commissioner of education develop a job description and evaluation form for districts to use in evaluating school counselors.
Section 21.354 of the Texas Education Code requires that administrators be appraised annually, under either the commissioner-recommended process or a locally developed and adopted process. A school district is prohibited from paying an administrator who has not been appraised in the preceding 15 months.
TEA has adopted a specific evaluation instrument for principals, the Texas Principal Evaluation and Support System (T-PESS). Information regarding the T-PESS can be found on the TEA website at http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/rules/tac/chapter150/ch150bb.html.
Local school districts may also adopt policies and forms for the evaluation of other district personnel, including, but not limited to, the following:
- Cafeteria/maintenance workers
- Teacher aides
- Bus drivers
Specific procedures for appraising these employees and their response/appeal options will vary from district to district, so it is important to check the local district appraisal policy for additional information.
A district employee has the right to file a grievance over an appraisal, regardless of the employee’s position or the type of appraisal system being used by the district.
A document evaluating a teacher or administrator employed by a school district or open-enrollment charter school is confidential, except that:
- Appropriate personnel at the employee’s current school/district with proper authority and a legitimate professional purpose may view the document;
- A teacher’s current school district may provide a copy of the teacher’s evaluation and any rebuttal document to another school district at which the teacher has applied for employment, upon request of that district; and
- An open-enrollment charter school may give a document evaluating the performance of a teacher or administrator to a school district or charter school at which the teacher or administrator has applied for employment, upon request of that school or district.
There is no precise definition of a professional growth plan (PGP) or improvement plan. For the purposes of this section, we mean any document that includes specific directives for future conduct, such as a directive to read a book on classroom management or a future goal, like observed improvements in students’ behavior in the classroom. With such a broad definition, a PGP could be a part of a reprimand or be a more formal “stand-alone” document. A PGP can be issued to an employee any time the supervisor believes there is a need for improvement.
There is a specific type of growth plan, the Goal Setting and Professional Development Plan (GSPDP), required by T-TESS. Additional information about the GSPDP can be found above. However, the GSPDP does not prohibit the issuance of a general growth plan for other reasons at the supervisor’s discretion.
A supervisor generally has the option of placing an employee on a growth plan even in the absence of a poor evaluation score or any other prior warnings. Of course, it is “best practice” for a supervisor to discuss the need for improvement with an employee prior to issuing a growth plan. However, the law does not require this; it is just a matter of good management skills.
Keep in mind that a growth plan is not, in and of itself, evidence of wrongdoing or poor job performance. On the other hand, a documented failure to comply with a growth plan could be a problem and could be used as evidence of a performance deficiency that could constitute grounds for nonrenewal or termination. For that reason, it is important not to simply ignore directives included in a PGP.
Published/reviewed: May 11, 2020
The legal information provided here is accurate as of the date of publication. It is provided here for informative purposes only. Individual legal situations vary greatly, and readers needing individual legal advice should consult directly with an attorney. Please note: Rights based on the Texas Education Code may not apply to all. Many Texas Education Code provisions do not apply to public charter schools, and public school districts may have opted out of individual provisions through a District of Innovation plan. Eligible ATPE members may contact the ATPE Member Legal Services Department.