Audit finds 99 percent of teacher evaluations were inaccurate or incomplete

An independent education research group found that 99 percent of Idaho teacher evaluations reviewed in an audit were completed incorrectly — and sometimes illegally.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra’s State Department of Education asked the Denver-based consulting group McREL International to screen a random sample of evaluations for accuracy and fidelity to Idaho’s evaluations system.

The reviewers concluded that school administrators ignored laws and rules for evaluations or did not understand the evaluations system. As a result, the reviewers recommended new training for “all teachers, teacher supervisors and central office leaders.”

Seven reviewers audited 225 evaluations, and found only three that were completed correctly and followed procedures and the SDE’s guidelines. Auditors randomly pulled 2014-15 evaluations from 53 Idaho districts and charters. (Click here for the list of districts and charters McREL audited.)

“Inconsistent implementation (of teacher evaluations) suggests that some districts either selected not to follow the prescribed process or lacked sufficient understanding of the system,” McREL’s authors wrote in their “State of Idaho Department of Education: Teacher Evaluation Desk Review Report.” (Click here for the full report.)

The audit confirms teacher evaluations are inconsistent and unreliable, and unveils hundreds of errors:

  • Most evaluations did not include two classroom observations, as Idaho law requires.
  • Most did not include goals of any kind.
  • More than one third were turned in late.

“I say it is something that is a good thing,” SDE spokesman Jeff Church said. “It gives us more information and helps us understand where we are with the (evaluation tool) and the challenges we face. I look at the report we have from McREL more as knowledge to have to move forward and support (local districts and administrators).”

The SDE has had the report since July. Idaho Education News obtained the report in December as a result of a public records request. Rob Winslow, the executive director of the Idaho Association of School Administrators, said on Monday he has never seen the report and has never discussed the finding with the SDE.

Idaho law requires teachers to receive at least one written evaluation every year. The state and most school districts use the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching model to measure teacher performance, and as a basis for evaluations. Principals typically conduct the evaluations, and superintendents include them in reports to the SDE. Superintendents sign an assurance form that they are reporting complete and accurate data to the SDE.

Teacher evaluations are increasingly important in Idaho because the Legislature partially tied the reports to a teacher’s ability to earn a raise. Ybarra is expected to ask the 2017 Legislature to spend $57.8 million of taxpayer money to increase teacher pay.

Two years of teacher evaluation errors

Idaho Education News first reported widespread errors and deliberate falsification of teacher evaluation reports across multiple districts in 2015. Districts and charters continued to report false teacher evaluation information the following year.

This has prompted three punitive actions:

  1. The 2016 Legislature removed oversight of teacher evaluation data away from Ybarra’s office and gave it to the State Board of Education.
  2. Lawmakers granted the State Board $600,000 in new funding to audit 2015-16 evaluations.
  3. The State Board in September endorsed a proposal to levy $10,000 to $50,000 fines against administrators who intentionally submit false evaluation data. (The proposal requires legislative approval.)

Ybarra has consistently downplayed the scope of errors and insisted the state did not have a problem with data accuracy. She did call for more accurate teacher evaluations in July 2015.

What the report reveals

The 30-page audit outlined these specified errors in the evaluations:

  • Only 39 percent of evaluations included two classroom observations, as Idaho law requires.
  • Just 64 percent of evaluations included one classroom observation.
  • Most evaluations (55 percent) did not include an individualized professional learning plan or goals of any kind.
  • More than one third (34 percent) of evaluations did not include a summative rating, as required.
  • Just 19 percent of the evaluations that were based on the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching included all 22 Danielson components, as required.
  • McREL reviewers noted wide variations in how the districts that relied on Danielson’s framework used it. Just 19 percent used the four-point scale of “unsatisfactory,” “basic,” “proficient” and “advanced.” Some districts ignored the lowest rating, while others ignored the highest rating. Still others used scales that did not align at all with the SDE’s adopted scale.
  • Of the 225 teacher evaluations audited, McREL’s team found that not one single teacher received a rating of “unsatisfactory” in any of Danielson’s four domains.
  • More than one third of the evaluations audited (37.6 percent) were not turned in to the state by May 1, as required at the time.

“It is clear from the findings that the Idaho teacher evaluation system was implemented inconsistently,” McREL’s authors wrote. “Inconsistent application can lead to several obstacles that hinder teacher development and improved educational quality.”

The audit and report also issued several recommendations:

  • Align the process of teacher evaluations to state and school district polices.
  • Ensure that all teachers, teacher supervisors and central office leaders receive training on the process.
  • Annually communicate to all teachers, teacher supervisors and central office leaders the teacher evaluation process, using specific details about the roles and responsibilities of each stakeholder.
  • Monitor and track adherence to the process to ensure consistent application.

Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader contributed research to this report. 

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