Evaluation bill draws fire from ed groups

Over the objections of three major education groups, a House committee on Wednesday passed a bill altering the teacher evaluation process.

StevenHarris2087
Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian

Following an hour-long debate, the House Education Committee sent House Bill 556 to the floor with a recommendation it pass.

Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian, pushed the bill, saying student and parent involvement should play a critical role in the process.

However, the Idaho Education Association, Idaho School Boards Association and Idaho Association of School Administrators warned that the bill violates a recommendation from Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education. The task force recommended empowering local schools by removing constraints against them.

Beginning in 2015-16, student achievement and student and parent input would be factored into evaluations. By 2019-20, student growth would need to account for at least 50 percent of the evaluation process, with student and parent input accounting for at least another 15 percent of the equation.

Currently, administrator evaluations and professional practice account for two-thirds of a teacher evaluation score. Under Harris’ bill, these yardsticks would account for no more than 25 percent of an evaluation.

Harris and other committee members said they find current evaluation rules unacceptable.

Like what you’re reading? Sign up for our weekly newsletter »

“It doesn’t really provide any meaningful component of parent and student input,” Harris said.

The education groups offered a compromise: a rule including parent and student involvement, while giving school officials the flexibility to decide how to collect and weigh this data. Specific weighting requirements and processes ties the hands of educators and district leaders, they said.

“Our proposal is we’re saying we do want to take input, and we’re not saying it’s detrimental, we’re saying flexibility – (requiring) that amount, we’re not comfortable going there,” IASA Executive Director Rob Winslow said.

Because the bill states that “a combination of parent and students input,” shall be required, Winslow and others raised concerns that a kindergarten teacher’s evaluation – with job security and, eventually, pay on the line – could partially be tied to evaluations from 5-year-olds.

“Student input below middle school – not valid,” said Luci Willits, the State Department of Education’s chief of staff, who declined to take a position on the bill. “You don’t do it with the little ones. That’s not going to give you the kind of information you need.”

Questioned by lawmakers, Harris said he envisioned parent input would be the driving factor, or even sole factor, at the elementary level. Student input would be more valuable at the secondary level. Harris’ bill does not spell this out, however.

Penni Cyr
Penni Cyr

During a break in the meeting, IEA President Penni Cyr said the prospect of kindergarten students evaluating teachers “is a valid concern.” But Karen Echeverria of the ISBA said she is not worried that will actually happen.

Still, said Winslow, obtaining valid input from parents has long been a challenge for school officials. He cited an example of an unidentified high school principal who recently sent letters to hundreds of parents, and received only six responses.

Republican Rep. Linden Bateman, a longtime educator and student teacher supervisor from Idaho Falls, attempted to kill the bill. His effort failed and the bill passed a short time later.

The legislation moves next to the House floor.