Research demonstrates that a student’s teacher is the most important in-school factor in improving student learning1. To improve student learning, there needs to be a focus on the improvement of teaching. One way of accomplishing that is through a state’s teacher evaluation system.
In Texas, teachers and principals indicated that the state's current teacher evaluation system (the Professional Development and Appraisal System, or PDAS) did not provide for the supportive and continuous focus on instructional growth that the state was looking for. Additionally, PDAS had been implemented two decades ago, in 1997, meaning education had seen a lot of changes since then.
The Creation of a New Evaluation System
As a result, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) committed to creating an updated evaluation system that would provide more robust and objective feedback to teachers and administrators while providing direct access to professional development opportunities.
Starting in the spring of 2013, TEA spent nine months creating a teacher new evaluation system that would use a multiple measure rubric to focus on educator evaluation and professional development.
The replacement evaluation system, the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS), was developed by a steering committee comprised of teachers, principals, and representatives from higher education and educator organizations. It was designed to support teachers in their professional development and help them grow and improve as educators.
Teaming Up: TEA and the Texas Comprehensive Center
TEA worked closely with the Texas Comprehensive Center (TXCC) in facilitating the process of creating T-TESS from the very beginning in 2013, all the way to its implementation in 2016.
First, TXCC helped TEA in the facilitation of a steering committee of educators and stakeholders in revising the teaching standards and developing the new evaluation rubric. The committee aligned areas of instruction and student performance to research and best practices that would improve teaching and learning, and, in the long term, would positively influence student performance. The committee then proposed a matrix approach for Texas’ teacher evaluation model that incorporates teacher observations, self-reflection, goal setting, and measures of student growth.
In addition to working with the steering committee, TXCC traveled with TEA to different regions across the state to conduct focus groups in early 2016. The focus groups provided input and feedback from those implementing T-TESS. Having an understating of local education agencies’ perceptions helped inform future changes to training, resources, and district- and campus-level implementation of T-TESS.
TXCC and American Institutes for Research (AIR, which manages TXCC) staff provided expertise on the T-TESS 2016 end-of-year survey. They helped to ensure that survey items of importance to TEA could be analyzed. Another survey they worked on together was targeted at central office personnel with the aim to understand how districts perceived the T-TESS process.
Tim Regal, the Director of Educator Evaluation and Support at TEA spoke of their work together saying, "TXCC’s support was indispensable on our project. Their organization of the project, from planning and facilitating stakeholder events, arranging for subject-matter experts to present to the steering committee, to technical assistance with the crafting of appraisal materials, allowed for a deliberateness in our approach that created significant buy-in from educators across the state who recognized how thoughtfully T-TESS was built."
The Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS)
The T-TESS rubric evaluates teachers across four domains: planning, instruction, learning environment, and professional practices and responsibilities. Within the four domains are sixteen dimensions that teachers get rated on. Teachers received ratings on a five-point scale: improvement needed, developing, proficient, accomplished, and distinguished.
To promote and track professional growth, T-TESS uses the cycle of self-assessment, goal-setting, and professional development as an ongoing process.
Once finished, T-TESS was piloted by 60 districts in the 2014-2015 school year. Afterwards, TEA collected feedback from the pilot districts to refine T-TESS for implementation in 250 districts for the 2015-2016 school year. The following school year (2016-2017), T-TESS was rolled out as the state recommended evaluation system.
Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest’s Role
When T-TESS was first piloted, TEA was interested in looking deeper at what the pilot districts looked like and how representative they were of the state. Tasked with the job, the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Southwest reported on the details of each pilot district and provided an overall analysis.
Afterwards, TXCC helped TEA create a survey to be sent to the pilot districts. REL Southwest assisted by analyzing the survey, looking at the district results and then providing TEA with an overall summary.
Doug Fireside, the alliance liaison to REL Southwest's Educator Effectiveness Research Alliance, noted, "The alliance, TEA, and other alliance partners wanted to have confidence in this new system and were interested in answering two questions about the rubric: 1) How efficient is the rubric? 2) Are there outside factors, such as school characteristics, that influence a teachers’ final rating?"
This need gave REL Southwest the opportunity to explore the pilot data, and how well the T-TESS rubric differentiated teacher performance as well as the role of school characteristics in teacher ratings. Below are some of the key findings.
The researchers found that the T-TESS rubric effectively differentiated teacher performance, which could provide meaningful feedback that can support targeted professional development. Of the top two ratings that a teacher could receive, 1.5% earned distinguished, while 3.7% earned accomplished. The majority of the teachers in the pilot fell in the middle with 68.3% earning a proficient rating. Of the lowest two ratings, 24.9% earned a developing rating and 1.6% were in improvement needed.
Additionally, The T-TESS rubric is internally consistent and efficient. All rubric domains and dimensions are interrelated but do not show substantial redundancy. “The finding that is the most useful is that the T-TESS rubric was a well laid out rubric. Parts of the rubric fit in the larger puzzle without being redundant. That’s a good thing,” remarked Fireside.
The T-TESS rubric ratings varied slightly in relation to some school characteristics, such as socioeconomic status and percentage of English learner students. However, there is little indication that these characteristics introduced bias in the evaluators' ratings. Fireside thought this was the most surprising finding saying, "The most surprising was that general school characteristics did not change teacher evaluation ratings. The effect was statistically insignificant. It was not only surprising to me, but also to alliance members."
The findings of this study can be a very valuable resource to other states also looking at changing their teacher evaluation systems.
About TXCC and REL SW
TXCC is funded through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, and REL SW through a contract with ED’s Institute of Education Sciences. Both are managed by American Institutes for Research (AIR), one of the world’s largest not-for-profit educational and social science research and evaluation organizations, with 1,800 global employees. TXCC is part of a national network of 15 regional comprehensive centers that focus primarily on providing technical assistance to state education agencies to assist in the design and implementation of key education initiatives. REL Southwest is one of 10 regional educational laboratories that provide rigorous research, training, and technical assistance to specific regions. TXCC works exclusively with the Texas Education Agency, while REL Southwest serves Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.
1 McCaffrey, Lockwood, Koretz, & Hamilton, 2003; Rivkin, Hanushek, & Kain, 2005