Ybarra calls for more accurate teacher evaluations

Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in a three-part series of stories examining Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra’s positions on an array of education issues. The series concludes Thursday. 

Idaho schools chief Sherri Ybarra called for additional training and a greater degree of accuracy in the state’s teacher evaluation system — while sticking up for teachers in the process.

On Tuesday, Ybarra responded to Idaho Education News’ June 11 investigative report that relied on state documents to show that administrators from 32 of the state’s 115 school districts issued identical overall evaluation scores to every teacher in their district.

Teacher evaluations are important because, for the first time, they are tied to taxpayers’ money and teacher pay through the Legislature’s estimated $125 million career ladder salary plan.

For the June 11 investigative report on teacher evaluations, retiring New Plymouth superintendent Ryan Kerby, who serves in the Legislature on the House Education Committee, told Idaho Education News that his district purposely awarded identical evaluation scores to every teacher because “Our school district, quite unanimously, did not figure the state needs to know all the individual teacher data.”

Furthermore, Linda Clark, superintendent of the West Ada School District, said administrators in the state’s largest school district attempted several years ago to send anonymous, aggregated evaluation data to the state in an effort to protect teacher privacy. Clark said district officials reversed course when state officials caught on and threatened to withhold funding.

Ybarra addressed the report, but declined to specifically respond to Kerby’s comments.

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“The feedback I am getting so far is everybody is pleased with using the Danielson model but we need more training in that area,” Ybarra said.

In Idaho, most districts use Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching as a measure of teacher performance in the evaluations.

Ybarra said the investigation into teacher evaluations was one reason why a State Department of Education subcommittee was assembled to review Idaho’s teacher evaluation system and develop recommendations for improvement. That group also recommended additional training when it met last week, and issued a series of recommendations for auditing evaluations performed by administrators, as outlined in the career ladder law.

“Do I think that maybe the information (submitted to the state in teacher evaluations) is not accurate and that’s the reason we put this committee into place? Absolutely,” Ybarra said.

Meanwhile, Ybarra said she wasn’t surprised that so many of Idaho’s teachers earned high overall scores on their evaluations. Under the evaluation system, teachers may earn scores of “unsatisfactory,” “basic,” “proficient” or “distinguished,” though not every district chooses to award “distinguished” scores.

“I don’t know who decided in Idaho that 99 percent proficiency is a bad thing,” she said.

“That’s a disrespectful conversation to have because our teachers in Idaho work very hard,” Ybarra continued. “The evaluation model that we currently use is a very difficult piece. It requires a lot of training. It’s not just checking the boxes and this is the score you get.”

Ybarra and State Department of Education Chief Communications Officer Jeff Church met with Idaho Education News for nearly an hour Tuesday, discussing a wide range of topics from federal education laws to data integrity, funding and local control.

Coming Thursday

Check back with Idaho Education News on Thursday for another multimedia segment with Ybarra, including a sneak peak at her upcoming budget proposal, a discussion of her administrative team and a look ahead at the upcoming school year. Click here to read part one of the series with Ybarra, focusing on the federal No Child Left Behind Act.