With the new requirements of Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS) moving towards full implementation, it seems like every other conversation I have with our members is around teacher evaluation, and it has made me consider, “why do we do teacher evaluation” in the first place? The ultimate desired outcome is simple, “to foster student growth.” 

But that simple answer leads me to consider many more questions.  How can we ensure that student growth is at the center of all activities in the evaluation cycle? Can our current methods of collecting and distributing student data truly inform our educators to maximize student growth?  How can student data inform planning and instruction to improve student growth?  Does student data help appraisers prepare for walkthroughs? With so many questions, where do we start?

Generally, the topic of student achievement and teacher evaluation has been more about an evaluation score and less about how teacher growth can affect student achievement. The more I learn about T-TESS, the more I am convinced that we, in Texas, are on an important journey to move beyond simple evaluation towards a robust, data-informed model to support teacher growth.  T-TESS should positively change the culture of evaluations from appraisal to coaching and development for teachers.  T-TESS is an aspirational model not intended to yield a “score,” but to provide meaningful feedback for growth.

To demonstrate how to better use student data across all aspects of teacher evaluation to meet the T-TESS requirements, let’s look at each domain, and discuss how improving our data practices can improve our outcomes:

Domain 1: Planning (Teacher)

Planning is not a task that we do once for the school year; it is a constant, ongoing process for educators. With the data available today, teachers will now have the ability to understand both quantitative measures, including ongoing locally-defined student growth measures, and qualitative measures, including anecdotal information. Curriculum teams can produce a scope and sequence, but we know that every child and every class has a different starting point. The sooner we know where to start and who we need to accelerate, the sooner we can take actions and evaluate the results for ongoing adjustments. These data practices applied throughout the year will help teachers demonstrate and deliver both student and personal growth throughout the school year.

Domain 2:  Instruction (Teacher)

In the Domain of Instruction, teachers can move beyond simply using intuition for differentiation and implement true data-informed personalization based on real-time data. While many teachers have not had access to tools and aggregated student data to support differentiation, the most modern tools give teachers easy-to-use teacher dashboards for their classes, so that they can evaluate student growth daily and decide what actions to take to personalize for their students. With T-TESS, schools and districts need solutions that put the power of “big data” in the hands of our practitioners, where it matters most, in the classroom.

Domain 3:  Learning Environment (Appraiser)

With T-TESS, data for the appraiser is essential for a better understanding of the learning environment.  Better data practices can not only help in planning conferences and understanding the classroom needs for differentiation, but also the right data can inform an appraiser of the background on a teacher as well as the learning environment before they step into a classroom.  The right data for teachers should includes background on the teachers themselves, including their portfolio, past appraisals, professional development courses, engagement, student surveys, and tenure. The right data for classrooms will allow appraisers to understand the current learning levels of the students and more easily evaluate the classroom culture through behavioral incidents and attendance information.  For appraisers, the most important element is time observing and coaching in the classroom, so being informed with the right data ahead of time will create more quality time in the classroom.

Domain 4:  Professional Practice and Responsibilities (Bringing it all together)

Too often, at the end of the year, teachers and appraisers are forced to scramble to collect evidence to support growth, data to inform planning for individual and district-wide professional learning, and goal setting for the year to come.  This is precisely why we must improve our data use, throughout the T-TESS cycle, so we can make informed decisions along the way, as well as deliver the appropriate supports for our educators. 

In closing, we know that better use of data creates optimal learning opportunities for our students, and it does the same for teachers. With that being said, the challenge that school leaders face is how to ensure that the right data is being delivered in a timely and usable fashion.  In the past, this has only been achieved by large staffs with complex data systems and reporting.  With competing budget demands and increasingly more demanding schedules, we need to lean on advanced data systems, paired with the T-TESS growth model to ensure that all teachers have the tools to make synthesizing and acting on student data a simple process. When teachers and appraisers have the right data, at the right time, T-TESS standards will help Texas schools maximize the growth of both teacher and student alike.

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