COLUMBUS — Ohio’s new formula for deciding whether teachers make the grade has yet to be fully tested, but the state Senate is looking at loosening what some say may be too burdensome a mandate on schools.
A vote could come as early as Wednesday.
This school year would be the first that all public schools would have to evaluate their teachers on an annual basis using a formula weighted 50 percent on student academic improvement on standardized tests.
Senate Bill 229, sponsored by Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green), would reduce that mandatory component to 35 percent, leaving it to school districts to decide whether they would prefer a higher standard.
The bill would also give schools the option of going through the full evaluation process less often with higher-performing teachers while keeping the mandatory annual evaluations for teachers considered most in need of improvement.
Mr. Gardner, a former teacher, said he recently met with teachers in Bowling Green and found them supportive of meaningful evaluations of their performance.
“They make the good point that we need consistent and ongoing evaluations,” he said. “But I think it’s also important to acknowledge that some districts have had to hire additional principals and evaluators. Not only is the evaluation important, but what we do with the evaluation is important.”
The Senate had previously backed the lower 35 percent student growth component during budget debate earlier this year, but ultimately went along with the House’s 50 percent academic performance in the final bill. Even if Mr. Gardner’s bill clears the Senate, it remains to be seen whether it will get past the House or Gov. John Kasich.
Mr. Kasich has frequently held up the work of Michelle Rhee, former Washington, D.C., public schools chancellor, when talking about education reform. She now leads the lobbying organization StudentsFirst, which opposes what it sees as a watering down of the evaluation process.
“It is absolutely reasonable that a third of a school leader’s time is spent on evaluating his faculty,” said Greg Harris, Ohio director of StudentsFirst. “They see this as administratively cumbersome, but this is the first time in Ohio history that teachers will be evaluated based on their impact on students. School leaders need to adjust to that reality.”
He said StudentsFirst is less concerned about reducing the mandated student achievement component to 35 percent as it is about a reduction in the frequency of evaluations for some teachers.
As currently written, the bill would allow schools to evaluate teachers who’ve been rated as “accomplished” on their most recent evaluations to be fully evaluated once every three years instead of two. It would permit those who’ve been rated “skilled” to be evaluated every two years instead of annually. All others would continue to be evaluated each year.
Mr. Gardner said the Senate Education Committee is expected to amend the bill on Wednesday to still require some form of observation of and interaction with the higher-performing teachers each year without having to go through the full scoring process.
He said teachers generally welcome the idea of classroom, in-person observations as an alternative to too much weight being placed on the results of standardized academic achievement tests.
School districts that received federal Race to the Top funding, including Toledo Public Schools, have already been through a variation of this process. But this year would mark the first in which all public schools would have to participate using this specific formula.
“None of us has a problem with an evaluation system because we believe in a strong accountability system,” said Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers. “The problem is that, if we have to evaluate every teacher every year, there will not be enough time to do the evaluations in a real, authentic way. We’d be short-cutting the process and become compliance-driven instead of results-driven.”
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