As Ohio’ Budget Bill (House Bill 49) comes ever closer to becoming law, a simple provision eliminating Ohio’s Resident Educator program is garnering a lot of attention – with some now believing that the program could be “saved” when the two houses eventually meet to hash out their differences in the final version of the bill.

Last week, the company that stands to lose $5,000,000 per year if the program is eliminated – Educopia – provided misleading testimony to the Senate Finance Committee in support of keeping the program.  Educopia is in charge of the most significant and controversial piece of the Resident Educator Program – the Resident Educator Summative Assessment (RESA).  It is this last piece that has been poorly implemented and failed to live up to the promise of helping young educators improve their practices.

In short, and very simplistically, the RESA is composed of a series of four “tasks” that teachers must submit to Educopia for grading beginning in the teacher’s third year.  The teacher must receive a passing score on all four tasks in order to advance to a five-year professional license.  The teacher has three total attempts to pass the tasks (year 3, year 4, year 5).  If, after the third attempt, the teacher has not obtained a passing score, then the teacher loses their teaching license (and subsequently their job) for at least one year.

The Resident Educator Program as a whole, however, includes a requirement of mentoring by the school or district in the first two years of the teacher’s employment.  When done properly by a good mentor, this piece of the program is favored by many within the profession, as such mentoring would be appropriate in any profession and was already done by many schools and districts prior to the RE program’s existence.

Back to the testimony from Educopia’s Matt Verber this week, trying to save his $5,000,000 annual contract with Ohio.

Mr. Verber starts by trying to compare the RESA to the bar exam for attorneys, then brings in other professions:

“The same holds true for other important professions, including doctors, nurses, architects and civil engineers – these professions all require exams to ensure that practitioners are minimally qualified before they can serve the public. We should have no less a standard for teachers. It would be a travesty for the children in Ohio, to allow teachers to advance in their careers when they are unable to demonstrate the minimum skills necessary to educate Ohio’s children.”

First of all, teachers go through multiple field experiences through the process of earning their bachelor’s degree (or, in some cases, Master’s degree), including a semester-long student teaching experience under the guidance of an experienced teacher.  Then, in order to “demonstrate the minimum skills necessary to educate Ohio’s children”, teachers must obtain a passing score on one or more standardized assessments as required by the state of Ohio:

The newer Ohio Assessments for Educators (OAE) are described as follows:

The Ohio Assessments for Educators:

  • Offer rigorous, state-of-the-art computer-based assessments for Ohio educators to demonstrate required content knowledge and skills
  • Help the Ohio Department of Education and the State Board of Education of Ohio meet their goals of improving student performance and preparing candidates for college and career success by developing, licensing, supporting, and retaining quality educators
  • Provide assessments based on contemporary standards of teaching and learning, including Ohio’s New Learning Standards

The claim that RESA is needed to ensure that teachers “demonstrate the minimum skills necessary to educate Ohio’s children”?  False – Ohio already has rigorous teacher education program standards and a series of assessments that accomplish that task.

Educopia’s Mr. Verber goes on to talk about how the passage rates of RESA improve between the first and second attempts, giving credit to the feedback from Educopia:

The substantial increase in the pass rate between the first and second attempts is due to teachers reviewing the feedback on their score reports, meeting with their mentors, and working on the areas of their instruction where there is need for improvement. Isn’t that what we want for beginning teachers in Ohio?

Actually, that is what beginning teachers want, but also helps us point out where Educopia and RESA have failed.  Meeting with mentors and receiving direct feedback to help promote professional growth is fantastic and, again, would be considered valuable in any profession.  We could even make the argument that beginning teachers should also be getting such direct and immediate feedback about their teaching practices from their principal through the also-state-mandated teacher evaluation system (OTES).

RESA, however, does not provide any of those things.  RESA does not provide immediate, direct, or specific feedback to beginning teachers – whether the teacher has received a passing score on a task or not.

Recently, I have had the rather unfortunate opportunity to talk to a “beginning” teacher whose license has been voided because of a third attempt on a single task not receiving a passing score.  The teacher, who I’ll call Sam, received ratings of Skilled (3 out of 4) through the state’s evaluation process, just completed a fifth year of successful teaching in Ohio, and, when scores were released on June 1 of this year, found out that the school district would have to terminate the existing contract offer for next year (against their wishes) because Sam’s license was taken away by RESA.

As any Resident Educator (RE) can tell you, the score reports are less than impressive, whether a passing score is obtained or not.  An RE license holder likely can’t exactly tell you why they received the score they did on any given task because the single person scoring the task only provides very generic feedback about the submitted video and/or written task.  Yes, each task is only scored by a single individual and there is no appeal process to request a re-scoring of any task.

Sam did not receive a passing score on “Task 3”, which is a task that requires the submission of a video along with written components.  You can find the full description and requirements of the task on this 13-page document on from the Educopia website.

In Sam’s first year, Task 3 was the only task that was not passed, and the 4-page score report came back with the following non-specific feedback for the five (has since been cut to four) tasks (click on the image to open it in a new window):

Remember those generic comments you used to get on your report card that your teacher selected from a list?  “A pleasure to have in class.”  Yea, the feedback is kind of like that.  What, specifically, does Sam need to improve on in Task 3?  What specific practices in the video were good?  What specific written items were lacking?  Sam is left to look at “the rubric” and make an educated guess based on this feedback that Sam received four months after Task 3 was first submitted.

Additionally, Sam is actually left wondering what specific things were actually done well in the other tasks as that feedback is equally generic.  If Sam gave such generic feedback to students on projects four months after they were turned in, how would that help the students get better?

At this point, Sam might want to get some more help from a mentor, but even the role of the mentor or any other professional peer is extremely limited at this point by Educopia (click image to enlarge):

Sam enters the next year left with only the Task 3 rubric and the generic feedback and a second chance at passing.  After submitting the task in February, Sam gets the following score report back in June:

Strike 2, and with a slightly lower score (4 points), but with nothing positive.  What went wrong?  What does Sam need to fix, exactly, to better help the students?

Now Sam is down to one more shot.  Enter the 2016-17 school year with a due date of February 15 for Sam’s third and final try.  On June 1, nearly four months later and at the very end of the school year, Sam finds out the results:

And with that, Sam’s teaching license and job are gone.  Sam’s district loses a teacher they wanted to keep and had offered a contract to, a teacher they had invested time and mentoring in; a teacher who had been rated as Skilled by the principal (note: I have seen the evaluation ratings, but am not posting them here to maintain anonymity of those involved), and a teacher who had developed good relationships with students (again, according to evaluation by principal).

Now, if Sam wishes to become a licensed teacher again, Sam will need to take “remediation coursework” and a supervised field experience at an approved Ohio university.  This, despite the fact that Sam already completed an approved university program (multiple, actually, as also Sam obtained an Intervention Specialist license), passed the multiple required licensure assessments to prove knowledge of pedagogy and content, and had been mentored, supervised, and evaluated favorably by the school’s assigned principal evaluator over a five-year stretch.

No, the education system didn’t fail Sam and Sam didn’t fail RESA – RESA and Educopia have failed Sam and the hundreds of other Ohio teachers who have spent countless of hours of time working on these tasks with no meaningful feedback to help them grow as professional educators.

Back to Mr. Verber’s testimony from last week.  In trying to convince the Ohio General Assembly to remain Educopia’s cash cow, he said:

In completing the RESA, teachers consider the content of what they teach, the reason for selecting that specific content, and how they can teach it better the next time.

No.  That’s what happens when teachers engage in professional discussions with their peers and their principal and have time to focus on growing as an educator by spending time with their students each and every day, not stressing out over submitting projects to a single blind scorer who won’t provide anything meaningful to work with.

Mentors?  Yes, mentors are great, and experienced teachers take beginning teachers “under their wings” all the time – no one needs a state law mandating that.

As far as RESA?

Find Resident Educators who have had to do RESA.  Ask them about it.