All Idaho principals follow the same template when evaluating all teachers, regardless of that educator’s level of mastery, years of experience, content area, or geographical location.
It’s a streamlined system that’s consistent, but isn’t always the best or most appropriate measuring stick. Administrators wish they had more flexibility to tailor the system to their needs.
The current evaluation system includes two observations, student achievement data and teacher goal-setting and achieving.
It doesn’t adjust for “ the precision or flexibility districts need to align it to their local priorities and needs,” said Jason Hutchinson, human resources director for the Boise School District. Because of that, consistency is a “double-edged sword.”
For example, the Boise district (and many others in Idaho) has a focus on visible learning — teaching students to self-assess and understand where they’ve been, where they are, and where they’re going with their learning.
The statewide evaluation model heavily focuses on what the teacher is doing rather than what the student is doing, and is sometimes in conflict with Boise’s teaching and learning model.
Andy Grover, the executive director of the Idaho Association of School Administrators, agreed that more flexibility in evaluation requirements would be helpful. For example, the number of observations could be reduced for experienced teachers and applied to observing and providing feedback for new teachers.
“You don’t take your car in every month to get it checked if it’s working right, but we do that to teachers even if they’re the very best,” Grover said.
Brian Kress, superintendent of the Blackfoot School District, agrees with Grover.
“Some leeway that way would be a benefit,” he said.
But others believe it’s important to make time for annual evaluations of all teachers — regardless of an already heaping workload and hectic schedule.
On a recent Friday morning, after a fire drill but before an assembly, Coeur d’Alene High School Assistant Principal Annora Jewell reflected on what it’s like to be an administrator.
“It’s all-hands-on-deck and very unpredictable,” she said. “There’s never a dull moment.”
In theory, she said principals have contract hours, but they always work outside of them – arriving early and staying late.
When observations are thrown in on top of that, her calendar is even more packed. Getting into classrooms is doable, but it takes careful planning, Jewell said.
“You squeeze it in where you can,” she said.
Even so, Jewell said it’s best to regularly evaluate all teachers, regardless of their proficiency. Mentors and peers support new teachers, which alleviates some of the pressure from administrators, and advanced teachers need feedback too.
“My fear would be if you back off and don’t create that annual check-in piece, teachers could go years without having someone come in, and it’s good to have feedback,” she said.
American Falls Superintendent Randy Jensen also supports yearly evaluations of all teachers. Even the best teachers need praise to stay motivated, he said.
“You still need to spend time with them and maintain strong relationships,” he said. “(But principals) can modify how they’re doing evals and not spend as much time with high performers.”
But the most recent State Board of Education audit of teacher evaluations seems to support the idea that administrators barely have time to get in the required observations – and sometimes they don’t get done.
As part of the audit, administrators and the teachers they observed had the chance to respond to a survey. As part of the survey, each group was asked how often principals or evaluators came into classrooms – and principals reported observing their teachers far more often (monthly) than the teachers do.
In fact, all the audited administrators said they observed each staff member at least twice in the academic year, “while multiple staff members reported being observed only once – or in some cases, never.”
“This could be an indication that at least some administrators adjusted their responses based on their knowledge of what would be acceptable (since performing less than two observations in the academic year would put them out of compliance),” the report read.
Christina Linder, who has long been involved with Idaho’s teacher evaluation process, said more flexibility would make sense.
“I think that we need a somewhat differentiated system between (new) teachers … and those teachers who have proven their commitment and ability,” she said.
And she acknowledged that evaluations and their link to teacher pay are a work in progress.
“It’s not going to be perfect overnight,” she said. “We just have to stick with it and keep tweaking it until we get it right.”