Senate Bill 229 is officially dead.  The bill that received unanimous approval for providing local school districts greater flexibility to focus a greater proportion of a teacher’s evaluation on research-based practices vanished today in Ohio’s General Assembly so quickly that the public had absolutely no time to react or provide additional feedback on the changes.

Try to follow along…

First, the Senate Education Committee met this morning to discuss House Bill 362, a bill described when it reached the committee as “[authorizing] the STEM Committee to grant a designation of STEM school equivalent to a community school or chartered nonpublic school and to make other revisions to the law regarding STEM schools. The committee quickly introduced “compromise” language as an amendment to the bill that introduced language “similar to” the language from Senate Bill 229.  The bill passed in the committee, rushed to the full Senate where it passed, then was rushed to the full House, where they also passed the bill as amended.  It is now headed to Governor Kasich’s desk for approval.

The Senate Education Committee met at 9:15 am, and before 3:00 today, the bill was final.

To top it off, the exact language from SB229 that had been inserted into HB487 by the Senate Education Committee last week (HB487 passed the Senate and then was not agreed upon in the House), was removed by the HB487 Conference Committee shortly after 5:00 pm this evening.  [Sidenote: HB487 was modified with 34 additional amendments in the Conference Committee before the Republican-heavy group passed it 4-2 along party lines.]

All in a day’s work for the GOP-led General Assembly.

A little history about the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES).  OTES has its origins in the Educator Standards Board, a group comprised of professional educators from across the state.  The system began as a process to identify best practices as a means to help teachers improve their practice.  The Educator Standards Board spent years researching best practices to create the rubric that is used by evaluators during the observations of teachers to arrive at the final “Performance” rating of teachers.  Using this evidence-based rubric, evaluators and teachers have the opportunity to identify specific evidence about the teachers’ practice that reflects the research-based best practices identified by the Educator Standards Board.  It is in this rubric, when used with fidelity, that teachers can identify both their strengths and areas in which they need to improve.

From the Educator Standards Board documents:

The standards … can be used to facilitate important conversations about effective practices for Ohio’s teachers and principals and to engage all Ohio educators in a process of professional development within a learning community that shares the same definition of effectiveness and the same goal of increased learning among all of Ohio’s students.

Ohio’s Standards for the Teaching Profession were not written as evaluation instruments. They can and should, however, be used for self-assessment and to identify areas for growth and further professional development.

When the Educator Standards Board created the actual rubric itself to comply with Ohio’s Race to the Top application, it called it the Ohio Continuum of Teacher Development, and introduced as follows:

The Ohio Continuum of Teacher Development supports Ohio’s educators as they develop the skills and knowledge necessary to provide the highest quality education to Ohio students.  Based on the Ohio Standards for the Teaching Profession, the Continuum describes teachers’ progress throughout the course of their careers. While the content of the Continuum can inform the design of performance weighting rubrics, the Continuum itself is not intended to be evaluative. The philosophy behind the Continuum is that teachers will continue to grow over the course of their careers with the assistance of a system that supports their growth and development.

Again, the Continuum contained research-based practices designed to guide educators in improving their practice.  It is in this research-based rubric that principals, evaluators, and educators can find best practices that can be identified and used to guide professional improvement.  It is in this rubric that real areas for improvement can be identified through professional dialogue.  The educators within the local school community can then work together to help each other improve their collective practices and improve student learning.

The original SB229 allowed school districts to weight this rubric as up to 65% of a teacher’s evaluation as it lowered the mandate to weight student growth (based on testing) down to 35%.  This intelligent change allowed districts to focus their efforts and evaluation outcomes on identifiable practices instead of one-time assessments.  This made sense as the means to identify specific areas for professional improvement based on research are contained in this evidence-based rubric. That ability to weight identifiable practices went by the wayside today in HB362.

In House Bill 362, school districts can no longer provide more weight to these research-based best practices and instead will be required to weight test results equally — test results that educators are unable to break down and analyze to identify which specific practices resulted in the students’ performance, especially when those students have moved on to the next grade.  These test results simply show us numbers without helping us to identify the underlying practices that led to the scores.

Furthermore, the requirement to weight student growth on tests as equally as research-based practices identified through the collection of evidence by professional educators continues the unequal practice of an inequitable evaluation system across the teaching profession.  While approximately one-third of Ohio’s teachers are required to include the results from the Ohio Achievement Assessments (grades 4-8, math and/or reading teachers), the other two-thirds of teachers are using locally-defined measures that include a variety of assessment measures — sometimes tests created by a district, others purchased from a testing vendor, others created by teams of teachers, and any combination of these items. Any way you look at this, the process is irrefutably inequitable.

Perhaps those teachers beholden to use Ohio’s standardized tests would claim that said assessments have been properly vetted for being rigorous and consistent across time.  But perhaps they might also claim that the use of specific assessments for which they have no input puts them at a disadvantage compared to other teachers as a “year’s worth of growth” is completely out of their control while locally-created assessments have not been rigorously checked for validity and a “year’s worth of growth” is arbitrarily defined by the local district or some for-profit testing company.

HB362 requires that the Performance Rubric and the Student Growth Measures be weighted equally, though they may be weighted as low as 42.5% each.  For that additional 15%, districts can choose to use “student surveys, teacher self-evaluations, peer review evaluations, or student portfolios”.

Of course, those additional options aren’t left entirely up to the local school districts either, as the Ohio Department of Education will “compile a list of approved instruments for districts and schools to use when evaluating student surveys, teacher self- evaluations, peer review evaluations, and student portfolios.”

When you hear Senators Gardner (original sponsor of SB229) and Lehner (Senate Education Committee Chair) say that these changes are evidence that they listened to educators across the state and made changes, don’t believe it.

In the end, they succumbed to partisan GOP politics and ignored Ohio’s experts — professional educators.  Again.