New evaluation report outlines improvements — and ongoing confusion

Thirty-six percent of teacher evaluations did not meet the minimum standards required in Idaho law, according to a review of a sample of 2015-16 evaluations. Only 49 percent met all the criteria.

Even so, those numbers show marked improvement from a controversial — and much-maligned — review of 2014-15 evaluations.

But the latest review, released Thursday, chronicles continued confusion over the teacher evaluation process — which is now tied to Idaho’s five-year, $250 million plan to boost teacher pay. Administrators say they have been misled on the evaluation process, receiving mixed messages from the State Board of Education and the State Department of Education. More than 60 percent surveyed said they want better communication and training from the state moving forward.

The State Board issued its first version of a teacher evaluation report Thursday — first at a board meeting at Boise State University, and then at a joint meeting of the Senate and House education committees Thursday afternoon. The report comes as lawmakers have to decide whether to put $62 million into pay raises in 2017-18 — and as they have to decide between two competing plans to train administrators in the evaluations process.

Highlights from the report

Christina Linder
Christina Linder, State Board of Education

In both presentations, State Board staff said administrators are making a good faith effort to meet the evaluations process.

“They truly believed they were in compliance but there has been a tremendous amount of confusion over what’s really expected of them,” said Christina Linder, the State Board’s educator effectiveness program manager, during her presentation to the board.

The numbers were a mixed bag.

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Overall, 64 percent of evaluations met the state’s minimum evaluation standards and 49 percent included all of the state’s required criteria. However, 25 percent of evaluations did not include evidence of two documented classroom observations — one of the state’s requirements. And 33 percent did not include an additional measurement of teacher professional practice, also required by law.

Under state law, evaluations were supposed to include the following items:

  • Two documented observations.
  • A completed annual, summative evaluation based on the 22 components of the Charlotte Danielson model, the state’s adopted evaluations framework.
  • One additional measurement of teacher professional practice selected from one of four options: parental input, teacher input, student input or a portfolio.

The State Board’s review also included a feedback survey, which provided valuable data surrounding the confusion over evaluations, said Linder.

More than 50 percent of administrators surveyed said they would like additional support and training on Idaho’s law on evaluations. About 60 percent said they wanted training on the state evaluation framework.

“Be mindful that each district leader was operating on his/her best understanding of compliance amidst widespread confusion,” Linder said.

A team of 18 Idaho education practitioners conducted the review. The team reviewed about 550 evaluations collected from 180 administrators randomly selected from 77 Idaho districts and charters.

How the results compare

The results from the State Board review represented a significant improvement from a review of 2014-15 evaluations. That review, commissioned by the SDE and completed by the Denver-based firm McREL International, found that 99 percent of evaluations screened did not meet all of the state’s requirements.

Administrators and educators called the McREL review invalid and unfair, since some of the state’s current requirements were not in place when the 2014-15 evaluations were due. (All of these requirements were in place when the 2015-16 evaluations were due.) Lawmakers have also criticized Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra for sitting on the report for five months, before releasing the report to Idaho Education News in December.

These evaluation results take on added importance. Under the career ladder — Idaho’s five-year plan for teacher pay raises, passed in 2015 — raises are tied to evaluations results. And some lawmakers have tied the fate of the career ladder to an improved evaluations process.

Since June 2015, Idaho Education News has chronicled incomplete and inaccurate evaluations data reports compiled by SDE.

Tension between the State Board and SDE

The evaluations issue has been a point of contention between the State Board and the SDE.

The 2016 Legislature took the responsibility of reviewing evaluations away from Ybarra’s SDE and gave it to the State Board. And when the State Board launched its 2015-16 review, it decided not to go back to McREL, the SDE’s vendor, and instead assembled an in-state review team.

Tensions between the two education agencies resurfaced again Thursday morning, as Linder directed a veiled criticism at SDE.

In the fall of 2015, the SDE told administrators that any evaluation plan they turned in would be approved, and administrators had a “degree of latitude” in the evaluation process, Linder told State Board members. It was not made clear that administrators were to follow specific requirements in Idaho code.

In an interview with Idaho Education News Thursday afternoon, Ybarra did not respond to Linder’s comments — even when asked repeatedly.

“I can’t speak to Ms. Linder’s comments,” Ybarra said. “I will say what came out loud and clear is … there has just been a lot of confusion. And I think that is coming from the fact if you look all the way back, there has been a lot of changes. We keep moving the target, every year we’ve made a change, and that came out loud and clear in the report.”

Ybarra listened to the State Board report twice Thursday — once with her colleagues on the board, and then Thursday afternoon, from the audience at the Statehouse’s largest committee auditorium. She was one of six SDE staffers in the gallery for Thursday’s State Board presentation.

Initial reactions

State Board members asked very few questions Thursday morning — largely because the review was just completed Wednesday,  and because board members were just seeing the data for the first time.

Things were different Thursday afternoon, when the Senate and House education committees got their first look at the report.

Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, asked whether the state was spinning its wheels, since the Danielson framework was never really designed for evaluations. House Education Committee Chair Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, defended the choice — since many school administrators have been using the framework already.

Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, openly questioned the mechanism the state put in place to support its career ladder. He said he is worried that the state has created an “evaluation portfolio death spiral,” which will take attention away from Idaho’s top education priority. “What we want is improved student outcomes.”

Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, offered a more optimistic view. He believes the State Board has the evaluations issue “well in hand,” and now he hopes the state can focus on classroom performance. “I’m hopeful that this puts this behind us,” said Kerby, a retired school superintendent.

What’s next

Curiously enough, lawmakers didn’t even bring up the issue that will be on their to-do list in the next few days. They will have to decide which agency should train school administrators in the evaluations process — and at what cost. Ybarra has floated a $300,000 training plan, conducted by the SDE. Gov. Butch Otter wants the State Board to conduct the training, at a cost of $2.5 million.

Lawmakers will also have to decide whether to fund the third and costliest phase of the five-year career ladder rollout. Ybarra and Otter both support this line item, which has a $62 million price tag.

Meanwhile, the State Board team will continue its evaluations review.

Team members will look more closely at about 10 percent of the 2015-16 evaluations they reviewed for Thursday’s report. The team will make onsite visits and focus in depth on evaluation practices. That second phase will focus on evaluations content.

The State Board anticipates making a report on this second phase of their review by mid-March, Linder said.

Idaho Education News reporters Jennifer Swindell, Kevin Richert and Clark Corbin contributed to this report.