TCTA filed a lawsuit Wednesday, April 20, 2016, in response to new state rules governing teacher appraisal systems.

In the petition filed in Travis County District Court, TCTA argues the commissioner exceeded his authority by dictating specific criteria that local school districts must use in developing their own appraisal systems.

“Clearly the commissioner has the authority to establish a state model appraisal system, which he has done,” said TCTA General Counsel Lonnie F. Hollingsworth Jr. “However, his authority does not extend to dictating terms for locally developed appraisal systems, the process for which is outlined for districts in state law.”

Despite calls from TCTA and many others to eliminate the student growth component from proposed rules implementing the new state-recommended teacher evaluation system (T-TESS), TEA declined to do so in the finally adopted rules, released April 13, 2016.

In response to TCTA’s comments, TEA said the law requires the commissioner of education to include in the state-recommended teacher appraisal system a measure of student performance. “Student growth measured at the individual teacher level provides the most instructionally valuable measurement of student performance for a teacher appraisal process.”

The final rules define the performance of teachers’ students, for T-TESS and locally-developed and adopted teacher appraisal systems, as “how the individual teacher's students progress academically in response to the teacher's pedagogical practice as measured at the individual teacher level by one or more of the following student growth measures:

(A) student learning objectives;

(B) student portfolios;

(C) pre- and post-test results on district-level assessments; or

(D) value-added data based on student state assessment results.”

The rules are scheduled to go into effect July 1, 2016. 

In the lawsuit, TCTA contends that by prescribing how “the performance of teachers’ students” must be defined in a locally adopted appraisal instrument, the commissioner’s rules violate the aspect of the law that allows districts to determine what best suits their local needs.

What does the law require?

State law requires the commissioner to adopt a state-recommended system for the teacher appraisal process with criteria based on “observable, job-related behavior, including: (1) teachers’ implementation of discipline management procedures; and (2) the performance of teachers’ students.” Local school districts are not required to use the state-recommended system. If they choose not to, state law also allows them to use teacher appraisal systems developed by district and campus site-based decision-making committees that include the same two criteria as the state system.

More about T-TESS

T-TESS is in the second year of being piloted and is scheduled to become the new state-recommended system in 2016-2017, although the student growth component is not scheduled to go into effect until the 2017-2018 school year. T-TESS has three major components: observations, goal-setting and professional development, and student growth. T-TESS is a significantly more complex system than the system it's replacing, PDAS (also a potential cause for concern, if implementation is not handled well). For more about T-TESS components, click here.

What’s in the rules?

In the finally adopted rules, TEA issued guidelines on each component of T-TESS. The most controversial aspect is student growth. The rules included provisions for locally adopted appraisal systems and prompted TCTA's lawsuit.

Another teacher association also filed suit April 20, 2016, asking for a declaratory judgment to block implementation of T-TESS because the student growth component includes so-called "value added measures" that are not based on “observable, job-related behavior.”

TEA has yet to issue a statement on either lawsuit.

Locally-developed and adopted teacher appraisal systems

In an interesting response to public comment that a district already using a locally developed and adopted teacher appraisal system does not need to go through the local adoption process again due to T-TESS becoming the new state-recommended teacher appraisal system, TEA agreed, noting that it had made changes in the rules to indicate that existing locally-adopted systems would not have to be readopted.

More on T-TESS rules

Click the links below for a look at key aspects of the final rules for teacher appraisal systems: