Ohio’s process of evaluating teachers could change

About halfway through its first year of full implementation, the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System may be headed for some changes.

The Ohio Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 229 last week, which would reduce the weight student academic performance carries on a teacher’s evaluation from 50 to a minimum of 35 percent, although school districts could still opt for a higher percentage up to the original 50. In addition, teachers rated as “skilled” on their evaluation would only have to undergo a full evaluation once every two years, while those classified as “accomplished” would be evaluated fully once every three years.

Local school officials said they see the proposal, which won’t be taken up by the Ohio House of Representatives until next year, as a positive, even if they still have issues with the overall system.

“This is a legislator listening,” Warren Local Superintendent Kyle Newton said, referring to Sen. Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, the bill’s primary sponsor. “They need to be commended on that.”

The student performance component was part of meeting the state’s requirements for receiving federal Race to the Top education funds. Newton and other local officials say the data, derived for some teachers from state testing over the course of a school year, is useful, but can be over-emphasized.

“Right from the very beginning (developers said) that this is data that should not be used for evaluative purposes for teachers,” Belpre City Schools Superintendent Tony Dunn said.

There are too many outside factors, over which a teacher has little or no influence, that can impact how a student performs on a test, said J.D. Benson, president of the Marietta Education Association, which represents the city school district’s teachers. A student could be sick or have a problem at home on the day of the test or not have been in the teacher’s class for a full year or semester.

“I don’t think any of us are opposed to tests being used to measure what we do in the classroom, but 50 percent … seems like a lot,” Benson said.

Newton noted that there are not state tests and accompanying value-added data for many subject areas, so other assessments must be developed to measure student performance for teachers of physical education, art and the like.

“There isn’t consistency among teachers,” he said.

Wolf Creek Local Superintendent Bob Caldwell said if the bill is approved by the House and signed by the governor, the evaluation process would have to be re-negotiated with the district’s teachers. He supports the idea of giving schools an option on how much student performance should count.

“I personally think it’s a good idea because it allows flexibility,” Caldwell said.

Allowing evaluations to be given less frequently for higher performing teachers is a plus, said Will Hampton, Marietta Middle School principal and acting superintendent for Marietta City Schools. The new evaluations require administrators to spend significantly more time observing a teacher in the classroom and meeting with that individual, he said.

“While none of that is wrong and I think it’s a good thing … it’s a lot to put on administrators,” he said. “You run out of hours and you run out of time because there are still your day-to-day activities and the business of school.”

Dunn called the increased evaluation requirements another unfunded mandate from state government, since the district doesn’t have the resources to hire additional personnel to oversee the process.

“The legislature shouldn’t be dictating how evaluations of teachers should be done,” he said. “I don’t think the legislature has the expertise.”

With Wednesday the last scheduled day for the House to be in session, members won’t take up the bill until 2014. Lawmakers from the region are reserving judgment until they learn more about the measure.

State Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Albany, said she has concerns about tying student performance too closely to teachers’ evaluations.

“If teachers are afraid students’ academic performance is going to affect their ratings and their compensation, they will be less likely to want to work in the districts that have the most disadvantaged students,” she said, adding that is where quality teachers are needed the most.

Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, supported the inclusion of value-added data as a key component of evaluations, but said he’s willing to take another look at the process. School officials have also brought up to him the issue of the time-consuming nature of the new evaluations.

“I do hear that, and that’s why I’m going to look at it before I say definitively (how I would vote),” Thompson said.

Gov. John Kasich isn’t tipping his hand about his stance on the bill.

“While we believe strongly in the importance of understanding how Ohio’s teachers and students are performing, we don’t comment on every bill introduced in the General Assembly,” Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said in an emailed statement Wednesday.