One thing the state’s lowest performing schools all have in common is teachers who performed at high levels last year, according to their evaluations.
Last month, the State Department of Education released a list of Idaho’s 29 lowest-performing schools. In 28 of those schools, at least 91 percent of teachers earned an overall score of “proficient” or better on their evaluation. The only school with less than 91 percent of teachers scoring at proficient or above was Cascade Junior/Senior High, where 83 percent of teachers scored proficient or above.
In 17 of the 29 lowest-performing schools, administrators reported that 97 percent or more of all teachers scored at proficient or above on their most recent evaluations.
“Idaho educators are the best,” said Judi Sharrett, superintendent of the Plummer-Worley School District, where three schools made the lowest-performing list. “I think they work the hardest. I think they are the most professional and they don’t always get paid as much as folks in other states.”
State law requires student achievement to be factored into teacher evaluations. Student achievement is one of the main factors that would cause a school to make the state’s lowest-performing schools lists.
Charlotte Danielson, the creator and namesake of the system most school districts use to evaluate teachers, has been skeptical of near-unanimous levels of teacher proficiency.
“People are justified in being skeptical of how accurate evaluations are because in most states 98 percent of teachers are given the top two ratings, or some unlikely percentage — nobody really believes that’s the case,” Danielson said in an April 2017 interview. “That keeps everybody quiet and nobody is going to complain about that, that’s probably one reason to do it.”
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Sharrett said her district employs high-quality teachers but faces several challenges.
“We definitely work on honing our ability to observe and evaluate teachers in line with Charlotte Danielson every year,” Sharrett continued. “We have a good group, but we have some challenges.”
Nine of the Plummer-Worley’s 38 teachers turned over last year, Sharrett said. The district is located near the Washington border, and regularly loses educators across state lines to higher pay or better benefits.
Poverty is high throughout the district, and 100 percent of Plummer-Worley students qualify for free or reduced price lunch.
The district also serves many students who live on the Coeur d’Alene tribe. One of Sharrett’s strategies is to expand partnerships with the tribe and get families and the community more involved in education.
Much like Plummer-Worley, Bruneau-Grandview is another example of low-performing schools with high-performing teachers. Two Bruneau-Grandview made the the lowest-performing schools list (Rimrock Jr./Sr./ High and Bruneau Elementary) while administrators reported that at least 96 percent of the teachers at both schools earned one of the top two overall scores on evaluations. Superintendent Ryan Cantrell did not respond to messages seeking comment for this article.
Why did schools make the list?
As part of the state’s new accountability plan, the schools were judged on several factors. Those schools that fell in the bottom 5 percent for performance made the list.
Those factors included:
- Student achievement in math and English.
- Student growth at the K-8 level (the percent of students on track to be proficient in three years).
- Growth to proficiency of English language learners.
- Results of student surveys at the K-8 level.
- High school graduation rates.
- College and career readiness indicators for high schools and alternative high schools.
Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader contributed research to this report.