The Opportunity

Research consistently supports the fact that the most important in-school factor to student success is the effectiveness of the teacher in the classroom.

  • How are great teachers identified?
  • How do we help all teachers improve their craft?
  • How can we retain an effective and diverse teacher workforce?
  • How can districts think strategically about staffing so students with the greatest needs have access to the most effective teachers?

Answering these questions requires, in part, nuanced, accurate data about each teachers’ performance generated by a well-implemented strategic evaluation system.

The state-adopted evaluation system, Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS), uses three core components and was designed to capture the holistic nature of teaching and offer a more nuanced evaluation of teacher effectiveness. However, while T-TESS applies multiple measures, and the tools and rubrics are developed well, the way districts implement T-TESS often does not meaningfully differentiate teacher performance. For example, in 2017-2018 over 73% of teachers under T-TESS were evaluated within the range of Proficient or better, making it difficult for districts to precisely inform feedback, improve professional development, provide increased compensation and advancement based on performance and provide rationale for teacher dismissals.

Fortunately, there are districts in Texas and elsewhere designing and implementing strategic evaluation systems that are differentiating ratings and using the data to achieve strong results. These strategic systems have proven to:

  • Increase retention of higher performing teachers
  • Improve student outcomes
  • Close opportunity gaps

While there is no one perfect system, there are components from these state and national examples that provide a helpful roadmap for districts looking to strengthen T-TESS or develop a locally approved strategic evaluation system.

Definition of a Strategic Evaluation System

A strategic evaluation system fairly and accurately evaluates teachers based on multiple measures, including student growth and student voice, and leads to meaningful differentiation of evaluation ratings (e.g., not all teachers are rated as effective). The evaluation data are used to inform critical human capital decisions such as strategic staffing, professional development, compensation, career pathways and hiring, supporting and retaining the best possible teachers.

The ideal components of a strategic teacher evaluation system contain (at a minimum) the following categories:

Components Teacher Evaluation
Student Achievement The use of multiple assessments to measure both (i) absolute student achievement and (ii) student achievement growth.
Observation A combination of informal coaching and formal observations conducted by a principal, assistant principal or instructional leader at the school, and based on a rubric of educator and teacher behaviors.
Student Voice via Survey A research-based perception survey that captures students’ feedback about their classroom experience.

For more detail on these components, please see Exploring: What Does a Strategic Evaluation System Include?

Toolkit Purpose and Orientation

The purpose of this Toolkit is to help school district leaders develop a strategic evaluation system for teachers in their district. This Toolkit includes an overview of how to leverage evaluation data, the components of a strategic evaluation system, how the system has been implemented in districts to date, and key takeaways from district leaders and researchers at multiple districts.

How to use this Toolkit:

  1. Introduction - describes the rationale and opportunity for strengthening a multi-measure evaluation system.
  2. Exploring - describes the benefits of using evaluation data, details about the components of a multiple measure evaluation system, and pathways for strengthening districts existing systems.
  3. Implementing - describes how to implement the components of a strategic evaluation system including change management considerations.
  4. Continuous Improvement - describes how district leaders can engage teachers and leaders in ongoing feedback cycles to continually improve the design and implementation of the evaluation system.

Sections may contain the following elements:

Spotlight Sections

Real-world examples of implementation success and challenges from Texas and around the country.

Lessons Learned

Takeaways for strengthening implementation and adjusting when things don't go according to plan.

If you are considering whether or not to invest the time in strengthening your teacher evaluation system, please review the Introduction and Exploring sections. If you have further questions or would like more detailed information, contact

If you are committed to improving your teacher evaluation system, please review the Implementing and Continuous Improvement sections.

Leveraging the Results of Strategic Evaluation Systems

While T-TESS incorporates multiple measures to evaluate teacher practice, districts’ implementation of T-TESS has not meaningfully differentiated teacher performance. Strengthening an evaluation system to provide meaningful differentiation enables important results and rewards the most impactful educators. It allows for:

Equity in Access to Effective Teachers and School Leaders

One important strategy for supporting student success, particularly for students of color and students in low-income communities, is ensuring that effective educators are teaching in the schools and classrooms most in need. Research shows that students assigned to effective teachers are more likely to attend college, earn higher salaries, live in higher socio-economic status neighborhoods, and save more for retirement.

How can my district use evaluation data to support this strategy?

Evaluation data can be used to make strategic staffing decisions that ensure students with the highest need have access to effective educators. These decisions include which teachers are placed in high-needs schools and which teachers get tenure. Some districts are incentivizing their high-performing educators to teach in high needs schools by offering financial compensation.

Differentiated PD

An evaluation system that provides meaningful differentiation in performance allows a district to target its professional development to an individual teacher's areas of growth, address trends that emerge for groups of teachers and support educators through coaching and feedback. The ability to provide differentiated support based on evaluation data is especially helpful when it comes to supporting teachers newer to the field; novice teachers are at a critical development stage and targeted support based on evaluation data can aid them in building the skills necessary to be a successful educator.

How can my district use evaluation data to support this strategy?

Evaluation data can be used to identify teachers’ areas of growth for professional development as well as identify those teachers in need of additional supports such as coaching, mentoring and/or targeted professional development sessions. For example, evaluation data can be used to match a teacher with a low rating in a specific area with a teacher who has demonstrated excellence in that same area of focus. Additionally, teachers rated highly effective can be provided more flexibility in their professional development and given opportunities to drive their own growth. This could include a self-directed growth plan or opportunities to develop other teachers. Evaluation data can also be used to inform the feedback cycle so coaches have targeted feedback to inform teachers’ practice.

Differentiated Compensation

Nearly every Texas school district compensates teachers based on seniority regardless of classroom effectiveness. Within seniority-based compensation systems, there is no financial incentive for an effective educator to take on a more challenging role within a high-need or low-performing campus. As a result, current systems favor more affluent schools and districts, which perpetuates systemic inequities. By re-considering the approach to compensation, a district can support the district’s values by prioritizing results and rewarding teachers and leaders accordingly. Differentiated compensation enables the district to reward and retain teachers who perform well and raise student achievement results. After implementing a strategic compensation system, over 90% of proficient or above teachers at Dallas ISD were retained, far exceeding the 83% state average for teacher retention.

How can my district use evaluation data to support this strategy?

Evaluation data can be used to inform the level of compensation for teachers. Compensation adjustments can include either additional performance bonuses or stipends or a change to the salary structure. Both methods have benefits and considerations:

  • Stipends: Stipends can be perceived as a concrete bonus and recognition for an educator’s accomplishment. The level of stipends can adjust annually in response to budget needs and the number of educators who are eligible. This allows for flexibility, but may lead to a lack of confidence in the longevity of the system.

  • Salary Structure: Changes to an educator’s base pay can be perceived as a more permanent commitment to recognizing an educator’s accomplishments. Those educators with a higher salary level now will also have a higher retirement benefit later, so the district must ensure fiscal feasibility in future years. Additionally, this system can lead to some uncertainty because it may be harder for teachers to understand their salary in the upcoming year. Final compensation decisions would be based on data that comes in over the summer and not finalized until after school begins in Mid-August. However, under this structure, an educator would know their salary minimum prior to signing a new contract, and the final compensation decision would only increase their total pay. See the School Finance and School Outcomes presentation by the Texas Schools Project.

Identification of Future Campus Leaders

Principal turnover is a challenge in many districts and greatest at schools with a higher concentration of poverty. In a 2016 Bain & Co. Leadership survey of 7 urban districts and CMOs, 97% of respondents believe effective principals are critical to school success, but only about 15% of educators and leaders believe the that the most talented people become principals. Identifying future leaders, and supporting educators and leaders on their path toward school leadership, can help ensure that the right individuals are in leadership positions with the right support. Offering career pathways is one way of supporting educators and leaders in becoming effective school leaders. Career pathways provide individuals with a differentiated sequence of career stages with increased compensation and responsibilities at each level.

How can my district use evaluation data to support this strategy?

Evaluation data can be used to identify educators for different career pathways, such as teacher leadership roles, mentoring positions or district advisory roles. This can help ensure educators and school leaders have leadership opportunities to maximize their potential. Additionally, data can be used to identify teachers with a proven track record of student growth to serve as mentor teaches. The data can also be used for strategic placement of novice or student teachers with these educators.

Improved Teacher Recruitment

A district in the state of Texas replaces, on average, 16% of their teaching staff each year. These percentages tend to be higher for urban districts. Given the high number of new teachers every year, and the impact an effective teacher has on student success, districts need a strong teacher pipeline.

How can my district use evaluation data to support this strategy?

Evaluation data can be used to conduct a pipeline analysis of educator preparation programs and the effectiveness of program cohorts. This can help districts better understand which teacher preparation programs produce teachers well-equipped for success. With this information, a district can re-think recruitment practices for future hiring cycles. Additionally, the data can help a district identify specific supports for a new teacher based on that teacher's preparation program. Additionally, districts can improve their efforts to diversify their educator pipeline by promoting the ways they leverage evaluation data – differentiated professional development, differentiated compensation and career pathways – in the recruitment process. Finally, districts may also consider utilizing the ultimate “buying power” of a school district to drive systemic improvements in the teacher preparation programs. To better understand how a district can create a strong partnership with teacher preparation programs, visit Partnering on Prep: A Toolkit for Building Strong District Teacher Preparation Program Partnerships.