Idaho schools again report nearly all teachers are ‘proficient’ or better

Idaho K-12 administrators again reported that nearly all their teachers were “proficient” or “distinguished” despite mixed student performance in the classroom last school year — a year complicated by a pandemic.

A mass 98.7% of public school teachers received one of the two top marks on a performance evaluation, while administrators deemed the remaining handful “basic” or “unsatisfactory,” according to numbers from the State Department of Education.

Administrators conduct mandatory teacher evaluations each year, and lawmakers have tied additional teacher pay to designations of “basic,” “proficient” and “distinguished.”

In the seven years EdNews has tracked the numbers, the share of “proficient” or better educators has fluctuated, but has generally trended upward to this year’s total — the highest rate over that span — past reporting shows.

The consistently high scores are because Idaho has effective teachers, Idaho Association of School Administrators Executive Director Andy Grover told EdNews last week. “What do people think we’re going to get — that all our teachers are bad? … I hear the same thing all the time: ‘Well you guys just mark them all proficient.’ It’s because they are proficient.”

Last school year, 97 of 179 school districts and charter schools marked all their teachers “proficient” or better. Large districts like Boise, West Ada and Idaho Falls reported that over 99% of their teachers met one of those high performance targets.

The growing majority of teachers deemed “proficient” or better climbed marginally in the 2020-2021 school year, the first full school year of the pandemic. And despite rapid shifts in learning models, the variable mix of student achievement, principals’ observations of classes and other factors used to determine teacher effectiveness were able to remain largely unchanged, despite the uncertainty of the pandemic, Grover said. That’s because many Idaho districts maintained fully or partially in-person for most of the school year, making some of the same evaluation methods that are used in normal years — like classroom observations — possible during a pandemic.

At least one thing is changing about the performance reviews, though. Administrators are “absolutely” giving less weight to student results on standardized tests like the Idaho Standards Achievement Test than in past years, Grover added.

Under a state rule, administrators have to consider test scores in conducting evaluations, but they choose how heavily to weight the test scores. That means the level at which low test scores impact teachers’ ability to climb the state’s pay ladder varies district to district.

Meanwhile, high marks for teachers accompany lower standardized test scores. The share of students deemed “proficient” in reading and math by the ISAT declined during the pandemic, exacerbating a years-long trend of the state failing to meet its own standardized test goals. Only 39.6% of Idaho students scored “proficient” or “advanced” on the 2021 math portion of the ISAT.

Some 30,000 of Idaho’s youngest students (grades K-3) are not able to read at their grade level, according to state test results.

Some years, evaluations have been beset with accuracy issues, and a few administrators have failed to accurately report evaluation scores, at one point triggering a State Department of Education audit, EdNews reported. For last school year, no inaccuracies have been reported.

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

Blake Jones

Blake Jones

Reporter Blake Jones covers the politics and policy of Idaho's K-12 public school system. He's a lifelong Idahoan, and holds degrees in Creative Writing and Political Economy from the College of Idaho. Follow Blake on Twitter @jonesblakej. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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