By Kevin Lungwitz

Under the T-TESS system a teacher may take one or more of three actions to object to a bad evaluation:

  1. Submit a written response;
  2. File a grievance; and/or
  3. Request a second appraiser.1

The section under which this Texas Education Agency regulation is found is called “Teacher Response and Appeals.” There is no corresponding section in the regulations for administrators. Does this mean an administrator cannot respond to a bad evaluation? No. So, what can a principal or assistant principal do if a bad evaluation is received?

Look to T-TESS for Guidance (But Don’t Request a Second Appraisal)
You can borrow from T-TESS and write a response and/or file a grievance. You should also probably request a meeting with your supervisor to discuss the evaluation. However, you should not request a second appraisal. Requesting a second appraisal is just for teachers. Besides, even for teachers, the second appraisal can potentially do more harm than good, so you really do not want to do this. The following guidelines should work whether you are under a T-PESS system or a locally adopted system.

Writing a Response
Writing a response is a time-honored, professional activity that is almost always recommended following a bad evaluation. Despite the absence of an express rule, your supervisor would look foolish rejecting a timely submitted, professional response to the evaluation. Since T-TESS rules require a teacher response to be submitted within 10 workdays, you should also follow this rule.

There is no formal or legal template for a written response. As with almost all rebuttals or responses, less is more. Get to the point and concede some points along the way, if warranted. Both things will make you more credible and your response easier to read. Do not submit an angry, emotional response. As the saying goes, if you’re in a hole, stop digging. A first-draft, late night, grape juice infused email rant will not work. This will detract from your arguments and do more harm than good. If you must, write an angry response—go ahead, get it all off your chest— then delete it. Start over and be firm but diplomatic. Have a trusted, professional friend or advisor review it before you send it.

In a T-PESS district, study your school district’s policies DNB (legal) and (local). Did your supervisor botch the process? If so, this may be the most fertile ground for a response. The commissioner of education has voided educator appraisals where processes have not been followed. Conversely, the commissioner will not overrule the subjective judgment of a certified appraiser.

While you would address it and submit it to the supervisor who wrote the evaluation, the response must be written for other people’s eyes. Whose eyes? Maybe the superintendent’s; maybe the school board’s. Your goal is not so much to convince your supervisor to improve the appraisal, although that would be dandy if they did. (It is the rare supervisor who willingly changes their own work.) In my opinion, your primary goal is to write such a good response that—should the matter escalate, and we certainly hope it does not—that your boss’s bosses will second-guess the original evaluation and wonder if it was fair. This is where the part about not writing an angry response pays off. The other eyes do not care about the drama, they just want the facts. Drama will detract from your message.

In your response, leave the unobjectionable parts of the evaluation alone. That just eats up time and space in the response. The good responses that I have read will usually track the objectionable “Standard/Indicators.” For example, just write “Standard 1, Indicator 1C” and then explain why you believe the evaluation is erroneous. Do not copy and paste all the supervisor’s words. Rather, pick and choose which ones you object to and then articulate why the supervisor is wrong. You might consider throwing in an occasional chart or campus statistic that the supervisor ignored. The more data you can provide to support your position, the more convincing it will be to the other eyes.

Conclude your response with a diplomatic request that the supervisor revisit and reconsider the evaluation and increase the scores where you provided the additional information.

Meeting with Your Supervisor
After you submit your response, you might consider scheduling a heart-to-heart meeting with your supervisor. This can be another chance for you to persuade your supervisor to improve the evaluation. You can talk through the bad evaluation again—assuming you have already discussed it at the end-of-year conference—and present your response. Be diplomatic and professional in your demeanor. If you feel like the relationship is derailed, maybe you can request that a human resources person mediate an honest discussion.

Filing a Grievance
Filing a grievance is allowed by state law and school board policy. It is irrelevant that this response is absent from the T-PESS regs. However, filing a grievance against your supervisor is a pretty good sign that the relationship may be irreparable. What does that say about your tenure in the district? Unless you have pointed out illegalities in the evaluation (e.g., violations of policy DNB [legal]), your grievance is going to have to be won politically. Where do you stand politically with upper administration and the board? Hard decisions might have to be made about whether to do nothing, fight, negotiate a departure or simply resign and move to greener pastures.

Accepting Constructive Criticism
Finally, it is important to be able to accept constructive criticism and be mentored. Surely the well-known quote said, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” If it is written in earnest, if it is written with encouragement, maybe the bad evaluation is honest and is truly a growth opportunity. However, if it is written punitively, if your supervisor ignored your input and successes, consider one or more of the response options.

Kevin Lungwitz practices law in Austin and is a former Chair of the School Law Section of the State Bar of Texas.

Endnotes
1Title 19 Tex. Admin. Code Sec. 150.1004

TEPSA News, May/June 2022, Vol 79, No 3

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Note: Information from Legal Ease is believed to be correct upon publication but is not warranted and should not be considered legal advice. Please contact TEPSA or your school district attorney before taking any legal action, as specific facts or circumstances may cause a different legal outcome.

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