The full text of Ohio’s latest proposed budget bill (House Bill 64) was posted last week and, as in years past, it includes much more than just financial recommendations.  There are numerous education-related “reforms”, some of which have promise, others that will place additional expenses on the backs of local school districts, and some that will continue to just continue the chaotic environment of change that teachers and administrators have been dealing with under the Kasich regime.

statehouseA key piece of reform that falls into the latter category involves the ever-changing Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES).  In only its third year of implementation in most schools across the state, it appears as though we can look forward to major modifications to the system even as educators are still adjusting to the massive changes that occurred last summer.

The process of implementing the OTES has already been a burden on schools and districts as they have been forced to create entirely new systems of tracking and reporting, all while continually trying to keep both teachers and principals abreast of the latest options and requirements.  Last years changes were particularly troublesome as the law did not become official until mid-September, after the school year had already started, requiring most local school boards to delay the official adoption of all of the modifications while trying to get the process started in a timely fashion and educating all personnel about the overhaul that had occurred while they were out on summer break.

With this year’s budget bill likely to be officially enacted just as late, school boards will again be scrambling over the summer months to revamp their processes, forms, and, in the case of most large districts, updating their local evaluation-system software to keep up with the moving target that is OTES.  The changes also will serve to change the exact classification of who is (and is not) required to be evaluated in the 2015-16 school year (though again, that will not be known until well after the school year is underway).

Before we look at the crazy parts, let’s look at one positive piece of the legislation:

Beginning with the 2015-2016 school year, the board may elect not to conduct an evaluation of a teacher who is participating in the teacher residency program established under section 3319.223 of the Revised Code for the year during which that teacher takes, for the first time, the majority of the performance-based assessment prescribed by the state board of education for resident educators.

For those in the know about Ohio’s new teachers going through the Resident Educator Program, this change is a good start, but doesn’t go far enough.  New teachers who are working under a Resident Educator license (these were issued beginning in 2011) go through a four-year “residency” program under the guidance of a trained mentor.  In their third year, these teachers take the relatively intensive, but even more cumbersome, Resident Educator Summative Assessment (RESA).  The entire four-year process that was designed by the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) mimics many parts of the OTES process and therefore is a grand exercise in redundancy.  Again, allowing these teachers to be exempted in the year they are doing the RESA is a good starting point, but we have no qualms about recommending that teachers working their way through a district’s Resident Educator program should be exempted from OTES entirely.

Now let the chaos begin….

House Bill 64 contains major changes to the OTES framework as spelled out in ORC section 3319.112.

It appears that Student Learning Objectives are out.  Now, before all of you teachers begin wild celebrations, you need to know what appears to be taking their place — shared attribution (as will be determined by the Ohio Department of Education).  Here’s the relevant (new) text from the bill:

(c) Beginning with teacher evaluations for the 2015-2016 school year, if a teacher’s schedule is comprised of grade levels, courses, or subjects for which the value-added progress dimension prescribed by section 3302.021 of the Revised Code or an alternative student academic progress measure if adopted under division (C)(1)(e) of section 3302.03 of the Revised Code does not apply, nor is student progress determinable using the assessments required by division (B)(2) of this section, the teacher’s student academic growth factor shall be determined using a method of attributing student growth determined in accordance with guidance issued by the department of education.

In layman’s terms – and to clarify all of those references to other parts of the ORC — this language applies to teachers who teach grades or courses that do not have value-added results based on state standardized tests nor has their school district purchased Approved Vendor Assessments from ODE’s list for these grades or courses that produce a student growth rating.

For the past two years, these teachers have typically been engaged in using Student Learning Objectives – a process designed by ODE under the authority given to the department in a section of the ORC that would be struck through the passage of HB64:

Identifies measures of student academic growth for grade levels and subjects for which the value-added progress dimension prescribed by section 3302.021 of the Revised Code or an alternative student academic progress measure if adopted under division (C)(1)(e) of section 3302.03 of the Revised Code does not apply;

To the untrained eye, these sections might look very similar, but the inclusion of one key phrase in the new section makes all the difference — “using a method of attributing student growth”.

Here is what the Ohio Department of Education currently says about shared attribution on their website [emphasis-added]:

Shared attribution is defined as a student growth measure that can be attributed to a group. This measure can be used to encourage collaborative goals and may be used as data in the student growth component of teacher and principal evaluation. The Ohio Department of Education recommends careful consideration and collaboration regarding the use of shared attribution data for teachers of kindergarten through grade 12, as the intent of the new evaluation system is to capture the truest picture of an individual teacher’s impact on his or her student population.

Ultimately, the use of a shared attribution measure, including the percentage of weight designated within guidelines set in law, is a district decision. Student growth measures should collectively represent each individual teacher’s impact on student learning for his or her particular student population. Therefore, choosing to use shared attribution at any level should not be taken lightly.

The decision to use shared attribution according to a particular weight(s) should involve close consideration of individual district factors, as well as how the practice will promote collaboration and achieve consistency.

In practice, shared attribution is essentially taking the value-added ratings of an entire school or district and assigning those ratings to teachers in the non-value-added grades and subjects.  The result in Ohio over the past two years is that we have had teachers receive individual evaluation ratings based on students that they have absolutely no direct connection with.  For example:

  • High school teachers of all subjects receiving a student growth measure rating based on the math and reading test results of children in grades 4-8.
  • Physical education, music, and visual art teachers at all grades receiving ratings based on the test results in subjects they don’t instruct.
  • Newly-hired teachers in grades PK-3 with an evaluation rating based in the test scores of students in grades 4-5 that they have never even taught.

There are numerous other combinations like these few examples in which teachers have had their evaluations based on students that are not even in the same building (any teacher receiving a district’s value-added rating as shared attribution).

While the flaws of the Student Learning Objective process are many, at the very least it can be said that the emerging practice (remember that it’s only in the second year of implementation in Ohio) does connect a teacher to the students he/she is teaching.  With some unknown shared attribution model being mandated to be created by the Ohio Department of Education (with no apparent approval by the elected members of the state school board), the OTES will have its validity and credibility rightly questioned once again.  With the theoretical premise of OTES (besides labeling teachers) being to improve student learning by helping teachers to improve their individual practices, the mandated inclusion of measures that contain absolutely ZERO connection to the majority of teachers’ actual work make the results even more meaningless (and that’s truly saying a lot).

Those not-small changes aside, the chaos of this is best summed up by the Ohio General Assembly’s continued ignorance of the actual start and end of the normal Ohio school year:

(F) Not later than October 31, 2015, the state board shall update the standards-based framework for the teacher evaluations to conform to the provisions of division (A)(1)(c) of this section.

Division (A)(1)(c) is precisely what we just discussed above.  The last time I checked, most schools in Ohio kick off the school year before the end of August, with district administrators and principals spending most of the summer preparing for the upcoming school year.  With this budget bill not likely to be finalized until some time in June, and with the Ohio Department of Education being given until the end of October to create this new shared attribution system, could someone at the Statehouse please explain how schools and districts are supposed to begin the year with this highly-accountable process is such drastic flux?  Or should districts simply not start the time-intensive and year-long evaluation process until the second semester of the school year after local boards have actually had time to evaluate the new framework and make all necessary local decisions?

If Governor Kasich and the Ohio General Assembly want to overhaul the OTES, that’s certainly their prerogative as we know they have a penchant for meddling, but for them to be so completely oblivious to all of those who have to actually put all of these changes into place is downright indefensible.