Key lawmaker pushes for oversight of teacher evaluations

The chairman of the House Education Committee is pushing a bill designed to strengthen oversight of teacher evaluations.

DeMordaunt New
Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle

Teacher evaluations are important because of Idaho’s new,  signature teacher pay initiative — the career ladder. The law ties teacher evaluations to hundreds of millions of taxpayer money — and teachers’ ability to move up the salary ladder.

Shortly after the career ladder law was signed, Idaho Education News raised questions about the accuracy of teacher evaluations reported to the state.

Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, said his bill calls upon experts from the state’s colleges of education to undertake a random, independent review of the accuracy of evaluations.

“We are now engaging higher education in the process as a way to assure teachers they can have confidence in these evaluations,” DeMordaunt told the committee.

The bill builds on existing accountability measures by calling on experts from colleges and universities to verify the accuracy of “each evaluation component… and the rating given for each component” of the evaluations.

Once the reviews are complete, the State Board of Education will report annual findings to the Senate Education Committee.

DeMordaunt said he chose the colleges of education to help, because their academic experts are unbiased and are already familiar with the evaluation system and teachers’ performance expectations.

“At the end of the day, teachers have to have confidence in evaluations, that this isn’t a ‘gotcha system,’” DeMordaunt said after the meeting. “This is about improving, and teachers have to know evaluations conducted in West Ada will be comparable and consistent with evaluations in Boise and across the state.”

Last June, Idaho Ed News relied on public records and numerous interviews to break the news that school administrators knowingly submitted inaccurate teacher evaluations to the state in an effort to protect employee privacy. According to state documents, administrators in 32 of Idaho’s 115 public school districts turned in reports to the state indicating that every single one of their teachers earned an identical evaluation score.

Teachers can earn overall scores of “unsatisfactory,” “basic,” “proficient” and “distinguished.” In 32 districts, every teacher earned an overall score of “proficient.”

Last summer, Sugar-Salem Superintendent Alan Dunn, the president of the Idaho School Superintendents’ Association, said “I feel confident most, if not all, of the districts that gave everybody the same evaluations, those scores did not reflect and did not correlate with the actual teacher evaluations they gave.”

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Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth

New Plymouth Republican Rep. Ryan Kerby also told Idaho Ed News that he purposely awarded identical evaluation scores to all 59 of his teachers before he retired as the superintendent of his local district.

“Our school district, quite unanimously, did not figure the state needs to know all that individual teacher data,” Kerby said last year.

During Thursday’s hearing, Kerby (a member of House Education) asked whether individual teacher evaluations would be subject to public disclosure.

State Board spokesman Blake Youde said individual teacher evaluations and the associated documents would continue to be exempt from public disclosure. However, aggregate evaluation scores would continue to be publicly available.

Idaho Ed News relied on aggregated scores to build its investigative report last year and never had access to individual teacher evaluations or personally identifiable information.

Oversight of teacher evaluations is just one provision within DeMordaunt’s 19-page bill. The bill deals at length with moving pupil services staff members (such as speech pathologists or counselors) onto the career ladder. That aspect wasn’t a surprise — lawmakers committed to making that change last year, and funding for this move was inserted into the proposed public school budget unveiled Monday.

House Education voted unanimously to introduce DeMordaunt’s bill. It is expected to return to the committee as early as next week for a full hearing.

In other Statehouse action Thursday:

Literacy. A second piece of Gov. Butch Otter’s literacy initiative is on hold for now, after several members of the Senate Education Committee asked skeptical questions about the plan.

House Bill 526 is the policy piece of the literacy package. It provides the funding blueprint for a plan to provide extra help to some 36,000 kindergartners through third-graders. The bill would require schools to provide at least 60 hours of reading intervention for students who score below basic — the lowest possible score — on the Idaho Reading Indicator. Schools would have to provide 30 hours of extra help to students who receive an IRI score of basic, a score that still lags below grade level.

There is no funding attached to HB 526; it’s still up to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee to fund the literacy initiative. But on Thursday, several members of Senate Education clearly had money on their minds.

Steven Thayn
Sen. Steven Thayn. R-Emmett

Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, questioned whether districts would be motivated to improve student reading skills — since the districts would receive additional funding based on the number of students who struggle with their reading skills. Under the bill, districts would receive only enough money to cover student interventions; they would not be able to move this money into other projects.

Coeur d’Alene Republican Sens. Mary Souza and Bob Nonini wondered what the state was getting for its current investment in reading programs. Idaho is spending $2.4 million a year in reading intervention, but reading scores have been stagnant for eight to 10 years, State Board of Education spokesman Blake Youde said Thursday.

However, Youde said, the current literacy program has a limited scope. It provides extra help only to the 16,000 students who score below basic on the IRI — and does nothing for students who receive a basic score. The literacy initiative is designed to provide more intensive help to more students who are struggling.

Dean Mortimer
Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls

Ultimately, senators had more questions than they had time. The committee cut off discussion of the bill to adjourn to a late-afternoon Senate floor session.

“We want to have a good thorough discussion on this,” said chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, moments before the committee signed off for the day.

Thursday’s delays came less than a week after HB 526 sailed through the House on a 62-2 vote, and one day after Senate Education unanimously approved another literacy proposal, a parental notification bill.

Senate Education will take up HB 526 again on Tuesday or Wednesday.

 

Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert contributed to this report.