Beginning in January, Idaho's Legislature will consider the largest proposal yet to boost teacher salaries under its plan to attract and keep good teachers.
The plan calls for teacher raises to be based on teacher performance. But a new analysis of the way Idaho evaluates teachers has called that system into question.
A State Department of Education report made public last week shows that most Idaho evaluations are incomplete or incorrect. But several superintendents who oversee the teacher evaluations in their districts say the report is flawed and misrepresents district efforts to parents, taxpayers and lawmakers.
Q: What’s at stake here?
Teacher evaluations will become a key ingredient in instructor salaries in 2018-19 as Idaho lawmakers push to raise teacher pay through what is called a “career ladder” that links salaries in a large measure to performance. The career ladder is meant to improve salaries in hopes of attracting more top teachers to Idaho school.
Legislators will be asked this year to put up $57 million to increase teacher salaries for the 2017-18 school year — the largest commitment yet to the career ladder plan that was initiated in 2015-16.
Anytime I do an assessment and 99 percent of it is wrong, there is a problem with an assessment.
Andy Grover, Melba School District superintendent, who is critical of the analysis that showed such broad deficiency
Q: What did the study report?
The state commissioned a survey of teacher evaluations. Of 255 job reviews from 53 school districts examined, the analysts found that 99 percent of evaluations from the 2014-15 school year were inaccurate or incomplete, Idaho Education News reported last week. The audit was conducted for the Idaho State Department of Education by McRel International, a Denver consulting firm.
Q: What’s the concern?
Some superintendents say the analysis of the evaluations could raise questions in the minds of lawmakers about the reliability of those evaluations on which teachers will be paid.
The report makes it look like “you don’t know what you are doing,” said Don Coberly, Boise School District superintendent. “We work really hard at this and we think we get it right.”
Q: What does the report say?
Just 1 percent of reviews met all the standards laid out by the State Department of Education for McRel to measure. The report also said evaluations were inconsistent and needed to better align to the Charlotte Danielson evaluation model. Idaho adopted the model in 2010, and officials have been getting training since 2013.
The Danielson model has been incorporated into the state’s career ladder as one element that will determine teacher pay beginning in 2018. McRel recommended more staff training and more clarity with teachers about the purpose of goal-setting and how it’s used in the evaluation process.
Q: What do districts say?
Districts complained that the survey focused on job reviews from 2014-15, before the career ladder went into effect. But Education Department officials say they were complying with the law that established the dates for the examination of the teacher evaluations. That examination also focused heavily on the Danielson evaluation model, although districts said they were not compelled to strictly comply with the evaluation model.
It is clear from the findings that the Idaho teacher evaluation system was implemented inconsistently.
State Department of Education: Teacher Evaluation Desk Review Report
Districts cite several flaws with the report:
▪ Many districts were cited for failing to have professional learning plans that set teacher goals. But those plans and goals were not required in 2014-15. “No wonder a large number of evaluations missed the mark in this area,” Coberly wrote in his weekly blog called Data Points.
▪ In addition to requiring the professional learning plan, Idaho’s preferred Danielson evaluation model calls for a four-tier evaluation system with these rankings: Unsatisfactory, Basic, Proficient and Advanced. But Idaho law has allowed school districts to use a three-tier system, and that’s what the Boise School District uses. “We were never told to use (the Danielson evaluation) form,” said Rob Winslow, Idaho Association of School Administrators executive director.
▪ Of the 36 Boise School District reviews that were examined, two were missing, said Nick Smith, human resources director. But district officials say one of those employees was on family leave and the other was off with a workers’ comp claim, making neither available for job reviews. No one connected with the report asked the district why those evaluations were missing, Boise school officials said.
Q: What is Sherri Ybarra’s take on the report?
The state superintendent of public instruction said it’s wrong to focus on the 99 percent deficiency. The analysis should be viewed as a dry run and a way to spot potential problems, such as the conflict between the model and state law regarding proficiency ratings, Ybarra said.
“Our intent was to help. It was not an ‘I gotcha,’ ” Ybarra said. “What we found out from this data was that the superintendents and districts are working extremely hard to follow the law.”
Q: What about schools outside the Valley?
Whatever the intent, many districts say the report cast their efforts falsely. “I am concerned this would lead to legislators and perhaps patrons losing confidence in us,” said Wiley Dobbs, Twin Falls School District superintendent.
Geoffrey Thomas, superintendent of Madison School District in Rexburg, complained that districts are being measured against a standard that hasn’t been established.
“As reports like this come out, the optics look bad,” he said.
Q: What are lawmakers saying?
Lawmakers are giving a careful eye to the McRel report.
“My initial reaction (is) my blood started to boil,” State Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian. “I certainly think that is going to be part of the discussion at the Legislature.”
But Hartog also said she heard the districts’ worries at a meeting with area superintendents after the report was released. “I am willing to hear the other side,” Hartog said.
Questions over teacher evaluations need a resolution as quickly as possible, said House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley. Those evaluations will grow in importance as the career ladder plan is implemented. When evaluations are fully in play beginning in 2018-19, teacher pay can be linked to three years’ worth of evaluations that date back to 2015-16.
Bedke has asked incoming House Education Committee Chairwoman Julie VanOrden to make sure everyone on her committee is up to speed on the evaluation questions.
“If the evaluation component is not in place or is not working, then the whole (career ladder) comes down in the out years,” Bedke said.
The State Board of Education will look into the McRel study and teacher evaluations at its meeting Thursday at College of Western Idaho in Nampa. The board is expected to take up the question in the afternoon.
Beginning next year, the State Board of Education will be responsible for auditing teacher evaluations, instead of the State Department of Education. The move was made because Idaho higher education institutions are expected to play a greater role in helping schools improve teaching and get the most out of evaluations. Those institutions report to the State Board.