Lawmakers wrestle with evaluation rules

The Legislature’s education committees got down to business Thursday, sorting their way through stacks of agency rules.

And one question left House and Senate education committee members stumped: What’s the best way to evaluate principals and teachers?

Rule-making is typical business, early in a legislative session. The agency rules go through policy-making committees — for example, the education committees review rules written by the State Department of Education or the State Board of Education. The process is less stringent than passing legislation; if one committee in either the House or the Senate approves a rule, it is in effect and then carries the weight of law.

The rule-review process may seem dull — and often it is. But don’t forget, the education committees passed the Idaho Core Standards, by rule, in 2011. And the rule-making process isn’t always a rubber-stamp proposition, as evidenced by the snag over staff evaluations.

A few highlights and hiccups from Thursday’s rule-making process:

Evaluations. Lawmakers on both sides of the rotunda punted on a rule to tweak the teacher evaluation process and establish a system of evaluating principals.

In both cases, two-thirds of the grade would be based on “professional practice,” which includes two on-site observations during the school year, and input from parents and students. The remaining one third of the grade would be based on student achievement.

Legislators wanted more details about how parent and student input factors into the process, and suggested student achievement should be a bigger piece of the equation.

Under the Students Come First laws repealed by voters in 2012, one half of a teacher’s evaluation hinged on student achievement. But after the repeal, a committee was assembled to look at evaluations, and the panel suggested a change. “This comes from compromise,” Luci Willits, state superintendent Tom Luna’s chief of staff, told a House Education subcommittee Thursday morning.

The House subcommittee put the proposal is on hold until Friday, to allow Luna’s staff to submit more data about how districts now evaluate staff. The Senate Education Committee took no action on the rule Thursday afternoon, and will take it up again at a later date.

Training. A rule to revamp teacher training requirements is also on hold.

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Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle

The big hangup is a requirement for sixth- to 12th-grade English teachers. Now, the state requires 20 upper-level credit hours for English teachers; this rule would boost that requirement to 45.

“Let’s make sure this is actually productive,” said House Education Committee chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle.

The subcommittee requested more data from the Education Department, and will take up the rule again Friday.

Ethics. The subcommittee did approve a rule that changes the state’s ethics code for teachers. This is the code that the state’s Professional Standards Commission uses in reviewing complaints against teachers.
Some of the changes were designed to adjust to a digital world, Willits said. For example, the rule would tighten the language on taking, or possessing, inappropriate video or photos of students.

This rule now goes to the full House committee for final review.

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Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls

Cursive writing. Also headed to the House committee: a rule laying out the guidelines for teaching cursive in schools. A year ago, the Legislature directed the state to write such a rule, at the urging of Idaho Falls Republican Rep. Linden Bateman.

Many schools already teach cursive anyway, Willits said.

“I don’t think it’s going to be an imposition to continue to teach cursive,” she said.

Upcoming: House Education Committee members will be back at the rules review process Friday. Check back for updates.

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