Ybarra calls for schools to stand tall in wake of teacher evaluations audit

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra has broken her silence by responding to the controversy surrounding Idaho’s teacher evaluations system.

On Monday, Idaho Education News broke the story that a team of independent auditors found that 99 percent of teacher evaluations screened were inaccurate or incomplete — sometimes breaking state law.

Ybarra’s office issued a written statement Thursday morning and a response to the review team from McREL International.

In response to the audit, SDE officials agreed “This finding supports that additional training needs to occur regarding the difference between a classroom observation and an evaluation.”

They also said not all of the criteria used in the audit, which the SDE developed with teachers and principals more than a year ago, were mandated at the time the evaluations were turned in.

“The list above includes six criteria, of which three were not required by law at the time the 2014-2015 evaluations were conducted. As a result, it would be appropriate and expected that districts would not meet all of these requirements.”

Finally, the SDE argued that just because there was no evidence included in the evaluations that school districts met all the requirements does not mean that administrators did not, in fact, meet those requirements.

Here Ybarra’s written statement, in its entirety:

“In a memo sent to superintendents and charter administrators this morning, I directed districts to stand tall, stand proud, and stand together to the interpretation of the McREL report on teacher evaluations, as this audit was never intended to be an ‘I gotcha’ of Idaho educators. It is important to remember that this audit was conducted with data from the 2014-2015 school year, which was prior to the implementation of the new Career Ladder requirements. The release date of this report has caused confusion due to the original contracted auditor passing away, which did cause a slight delay in the release of the report. That being said, superintendents and educators have my full support as I recognize they are working hard to follow the law.

It is also important to point out that teacher evaluations are under scrutiny across the nation, not just in Idaho, and it is likely that the new national administration will leave the solutions up to individual states. I look forward to having more discussions at the upcoming Idaho State Board of Education meeting and the legislative session. I intend to use the information that we have from this audit, as well as additional information from the state board’s audit, as it was intended. It was intended to provide clarity during the roll out of the Career Ladder and to move more in the direction of statewide support and collaboration. Our hard working educators are tirelessly going above and beyond the call of duty to support schools and students to achieve.”

Ybarra sent the memo to superintendents and posted it on the SDE website Thursday.

In the memo, she criticized EdNews for reporting that legislators and State Board of Education officials found out about the audit through EdNews.

“Use of the McREL report, through a public records request by one media outlet without a sound and thorough presentation to provide clarity by the department to the Idaho State Board of Education members and legislators, is completely, and solely political and should not be tolerated,” Ybarra wrote.

Ybarra received the audit in July and did not explain why she never shared the findings with lawmakers or State Board officials. EdNews obtained the McREL audit through a public records request on Dec. 2.

SDE officials said they plan to present the findings to the 2017 Legislature, which convenes Jan. 9

On Thursday, Ybarra’s team also addressed other findings from the audit.

McREL’s second finding was that only 39 percent of the 225 evaluations screened included data from two classroom observations. Idaho law requires a minimum of two classroom observations.

“This finding is about whether the form provided evidence of both observations,” SDE officials wrote in their response. “That does not necessarily indicate that the (local school district or charter) did not include the documented observations. (Administrative rule) does not require that the documented observations be included in the personnel file, only the evaluation.”

Throughout their response, SDE officials agreed with McREL’s team that “additional training needs to occur.”

Idaho EdNews requested an interview with Ybarra Monday, but her staff said she was traveling and busy all week and unavailable for interviews.

Teacher evaluations are increasingly important in Idaho because the 2015 career ladder law tied teacher pay to the evaluations. Next year, evaluations will form the basis for pay raises. Ybarra is expected to ask the 2017 Legislature to spend about $58 million in taxpayer money to increase teacher pay and benefits.

Idaho EdNews first documented widespread problems with 2014-15 teacher evaluation data in June 2015. Ybarra downplayed the scope of the errors, but called for more accurate teacher evaluations the following month.

Although the audit making news this week covers 2014-15 evaluations, Idaho EdNews has already documented multiple cases of administrators knowingly submitting inaccurate evaluation data to the state in 2015-16.

The State Board is already preparing to audit the 2015-16 evaluations, and plan to report those findings to the 2017 Legislature.


Clark Corbin

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