Thursday, June 9, 2016

What About T-TESS

A lot of educators have asked me what is my opinion on T-TESS (Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System).  My general response is that it is much ado about nothing.  But I also realize that is a “cynical old man” response, which really says nothing.  So here is my honest critique.

Overall, T-TESS a better framework than what we had (PDAS). But, it is far from perfect and nowhere near being a cure all.  Good leaders will use the system to good effect.  Poor leaders will misuse the system to poor effect. The sun comes up, the sun goes down...

There are three major flaws to T-TESS that are only apparent to our most cutting edge instructional leaders. Meaning (without insult) that rank-in-file instructional leaders haven’t yet solved the problems in front to these three problems.

Problem 1: I’ve already touched on.  T-TESS is just a tool, not magic. And tools in the hands of lazy and incompetent people can cause a lot of collateral damage. Sadly, having lazy and/or incompetent people in leadership roles is not as rare of an event as we want to believe.  And so end the pessimistic portion of this post.

Problem 2:  A lot of the T-TESS evaluation is driven by what occurs before the lesson even starts.  Planning and collaboration.  Which means that:

A. The campus and teachers need a structured, logical and consistent planning and collaboration process in place.  This is the responsibility of leadership, not teachers. 

B. Leadership has to actively participate in the planning and collaboration process to ensure that it is being implemented and to evaluate (over time) teachers.  If leadership doesn’t do its part, it will not hurt leadership. Instead, it will hurt teachers. 

Problem 3: The system allows novice and lazy instructional leaders to believe that:

A. Formative and summative observations should be co-mingled to create a summative teacher evaluation.

B. Surprise / unannounced observations are acceptable for summative teacher evaluation. 

Let me be clear, individually, A and B are BAD PRACTICE. Used together, A and B simply perpetuates the “Us vs. Them” climate that dogs the professional staff on too many campuses. I’ll expand on this in an upcoming post.

Notice I didn’t even address the student performance component of the system.  That problem isn’t hidden. It is right there for everyone to see.  It’s not that I’m against a student performance component. In theory, I’m an advocate. But in practice, there has to be a way to objectively measure the value added by each individual teacher. That system is not in place.  What is in place is a poorly designed accountability continuum that effectively places some teachers at significant career risk at one end of the continuum and some teachers at no career risk at the other end of the continuum.  It’s hard to sell the benefit of that.

All of the above to say this. T-TESS is better than PDAS and better than what is in place in a lot of other states.  Use T-TESS in an honest attempt to support and coach teachers and you’ll be OK.  Use T-TESS to meet a required mandate and really, nothing will change.  

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