In what may be a sign that the legislature is gaining a better understanding of the problems with implementing the new Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES), the Ohio Senate introduced a bill this week that reduces the impact of student achievement scores on a teacher’s evaluation while also reducing the amount of time principals would waste continually re-evaluating good teachers.

Senator Randy Gardner, along with co-sponsors including Senator Peggy Lehner, the chair of the Senate Education Committee, introduced Senate Bill 229 this week that contains three significant changes to the evaluation process.

The first important change is a reduction in the required percentage that student growth (as measured by standardized tests) would be applied to a teacher’s overall evaluation.  Current law requires that student test results (based on a couple of tests given a few days out of the entire year) contribute 50% of a teacher’s final rating.  Additionally, if the teacher only teaches math or reading in grades 4-8, that 50% would be comprised entirely of value-added data — based on assessments that the Ohio Department of Education stated are not intended to be used for teacher evaluation (this FAQ has since been removed from the ODE site).  The bill proposes to cut that requirement down to 35%, a fairly significant drop.  Considering the fact that the new evaluation system hasn’t even completed its first full year of implementation, this change must be reflective of conversations and, dare we say it, perhaps even some rational thinking on the part of the legislators.  The bill does allow a school district to add the additional 15% back into the process, but seeing as how most professional educators, and even Battelle for Kids, the state’s value-added experts, recognize the flaws of using standardized tests for evaluative purposes and the fact that less than half of Ohio’s educators actually have standardized test data (i.e., math and reading in grades 4-8), we consider it highly unlikely that districts will be anxious to up the percentage.

The next two changes would also seem to benefit districts while honoring teachers who are performing their jobs at a high level.

Teachers who receive the highest rating available, Accomplished, were originally given the benefit of being evaluated every other year, but the new bill increases that to once every three years.  This change reduces the amount of time principals will have to spend completing the laborious and time-intensive evaluation process for teachers who have demonstrated that they are, as the title of the rating clearly states, doing a fantastic job.  Accomplished teachers, based on the OTES rubric, typically are demonstrating leadership qualities that go above and beyond their classroom duties, so this change should also free up some time for these teachers to better exercise their leadership abilities within their schools.

In another positive step, SB 229 changes the requirement for a Skilled teacher from an annual evaluation to one that would occur every other year.  Skilled is the second highest overall rating a teacher can receive, which basically means they are performing their duties as a classroom teacher at a high level as expected, though they may not be described as a leader in their school.  This rating is what the majority of Ohio’s hard-working teachers are expected to receive, as the criteria on the OTES rubric essentially describe everything a classroom teacher should be doing.    Again, this change honors the work of teachers who are doing a great job and further frees up school administrators from the absurdly time-intensive process of continually evaluating these great teachers every single year.

Time has been one of the major criticisms of this new system.  With the evaluation process expected to add an additional five hours of time to a principal’s work schedule for each teacher being evaluated, districts were already trying to figure out how to support principals who would now be spending weeks on the process of conducting evaluations and completing paperwork for teachers that have demonstrated that they are practicing their craft at a high level.  Others have estimated that the new process would triple the amount of time a principal must spend exclusively on teacher evaluations — a clear waste.

It’s encouraging to see these types of reasonable changes occurring in the Senate Education Committee where much of the process has been driven legislatively, as it reflects a willingness to dial back some of the overbearing requirements in a manner that benefits schools, even if only for correcting the ridiculous amount of time principals and teachers would have spent on the process.

If the new evaluation system is truly going to be accepted as a model for helping teachers improve their practice and not as a “gotcha” system seeking to catch teachers doing something wrong and trying to fire them, then modifications like this must continue to occur at the legislative level, and it’s our experience that Senator Lehner is one of the few who may be willing to listen to reasonable arguments and even modify laws that she helped to initially create (as is the case here).

We encourage you to read SB229, consider its changes to the OTES, and then contact Senator Lehner with your feedback and/or support of these changes, as well as your experiences with the new evaluation system so far this school year.

Senator Lehner’s contact information can be found on her website: http://www.ohiosenate.gov/lehner

 

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