On Sunday we detailed many of the major changes that school districts will be forced to change surrounding the implementation of the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES).  Those changes would be onerous and certainly untimely for school districts as they are not likely to be officially adopted until some time this summer.  Such a late adoption of the sweeping changes will once again leave school districts scrambling and leave teachers and administrators questioning what, exactly, the latest iteration of the OTES actually is in practice.

There are, however, two positive(?) changes to the evaluation system that, while still leaving school districts scrambling, would provide some additional flexibility to local school boards.

First, HB64 (pp. 921-922) proposes allowing local school districts the opportunity to drop the Student Growth Measures (SGM) portion of the OTES down to as low as 25% of a teacher’s overall evaluation in both the original and alternative frameworks.  The Senate tried to accomplish this change in November 2013 through Senate Bill 229, but the House Education Committee squashed that attempt late last spring.  SB229 would have allowed school districts to drop the figure to 35%, so we’re not optimistic that this proposed change will hold (though the departure of House Education Committee chair Gerald Stebelton might give the proposal a fighting chance).

The second positive change is much smaller and serves as more of a “clean-up” type of item to a change from last year that was first of all confusing, and secondly forced the Ohio Department of Education to change the entire process of calculating the Final Summative Rating.

The change that was enacted last year allowed districts to choose to evaluate teachers rated Skilled once every two years, and teachers rated Accomplished once every three years, as long as the teacher’s SGM rating was “average or higher”.  This necessitated a change by the Ohio Department of Education since the SGM rating was actually on a 1-5 scale where scores of 2-4 were combined to be on the same level for the final conversion.  ODE subsequently spent who-knows-how-much time creating a new structure to accommodate this new law – a 600-point scale system – while having to also spend time and money re-programming the state’s evaluation reporting system, eTPES (Electronic Teacher and Principal Evaluation System).

Now, HB64 proposes eliminating that “average or higher” requirement for teachers rated Accomplished to strictly allow school districts to choose to evaluate them once every three years with no strings attached.  Teachers rated Skilled are still required to meet that SGM threshold in order to have the “off” year from the full evaluation cycle.

While these two proposed changes could still be considered positive if we assume that the OTES isn’t going away anytime soon as they provide local school districts more flexibility, the major issue we brought up on Sunday still remains — timing.

The legislation from last year that enacted so many of these changes for the 2014-15 school year was House Bill 362.  That bill was not passed out of the General Assembly and sent to Governor Kasich until June 10, 2014, and the Governor quickly signed it two days later.  Then, the actual law did not take effect until 90 days later on September 11, well after the school year had already begun and the evaluation process was supposed to have begun.  These changes (and the changes we detailed on Sunday) appear to be headed down that same road, leaving schools once again scrambling to formally adopt the mandated changes and school boards scrambling to make decisions about the new options available to them.

Teachers shouldn’t be waiting until after the school year begins to find out exactly where the stand in the evaluation process and what their individual requirements are for the third straight year and school boards shouldn’t be put in a position where they have to scramble to make such important decisions that can literally impact the employment status of an individual as well as their simple compliance with state laws.

As we said before about this, if Governor Kasich and the Ohio General Assembly want to tinker with the laws, that’s their choice, but if they are truly making these changes in an attempt to correct the flawed OTES and help provide local districts with more flexibility, then they need to also recognize that the timeline for school districts to begin planning for the next school year starts now, not in September.

Making significant changes to something that is supposedly of such high importance in terms of improving our public schools needs to be done on a schedule that both the Ohio Department of Education and the school districts across Ohio can reasonably accommodate, not on a schedule that only suits those who meet a couple of times per week in the Statehouse.

These and all of the education-related provisions in HB64 should be pulled from HB64 and placed in separate bills in order to facilitate a more efficient process of discussion and debate (and possible passage) through the House and Senate Education Committees instead of being dragged through and delayed through the months-long budget debate.