Ybarra may push for changes to Idaho law regarding teacher evaluations

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra may call for changes to Idaho laws in response to “contradictions” surrounding the state’s teacher evaluations system.

On Monday, Ybarra met with Idaho Education News to respond to an independent audit that found 99 percent of teacher evaluations screened were inaccurate or incomplete.

During her interview, Ybarra:

  • Discussed potential changes to Idaho law.
  • Defended her decision to not publicly release findings of the audit — which was paid for with taxpayers’ money.
  • Suggested that continued funding for teacher raises through the career ladder salary law is not a slam-dunk.

According to Idaho law, teachers must demonstrate proficiency during a three-year period beginning with 2015-16 evaluations in order to earn raises. Ybarra outlined a plan to change that to a two-year period beginning with 2016-17 teacher evaluations data. The McREL International audit reviewed 2014-15 teacher evaluations, which are not tied to a teacher’s ability to earn a raise. Ybarra now wants to remove 2015-16 teacher evaluations as a basis for earning raises.

Legislators passed the career ladder salary law partially tying teacher pay to evaluations in March 2015. The law took affect July 1, 2015 — before the start of the 2015-16 school year — but Ybarra suggested administrators and educators did not have ample time or training to incorporate career ladder requirements into teacher evaluations during the 2015-16 school year.

“People are out on break for summer and they come back in August or September,” Ybarra said. “Where was the training? Where was the clarification? Where was the time to do those things?”

School administrators have already completed teacher evaluations from 2015-16 and officials with the State Board of Education are preparing to audit them and release the findings to the 2017 Legislature.

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Last summer, superintendents from seven school districts confirmed to EdNews errors in their own 2015-16 teacher evaluation data — including instances of administrators falsely reporting to the state that every single one of their teachers earned overall evaluation scores of “proficient.”

When asked if she will sponsor legislation to remove 2015-16 evaluation data as a basis for raises, Ybarra said “We’ve talked about that, and I’m still working though that with legislators.”

Ybarra also described what she termed contradictions between Idaho law and the state’s adopted teacher evaluation tool — the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching. For instance, Ybarra said the Danielson Framework outlines four performance scores a teacher may earn — “unsatisfactory,” “basic,” “proficient” and “advanced.” Some districts use all four scores, but some only use three. Additionally, Danielson outlines 22 areas that teachers are evaluated on, but not all districts use all 22 components. In her opinion, these contradictions led to red flags in the audit.

“Moving forward, we need clarification on that after the implementation of the career ladder laws,” Ybarra said. “Another contradiction is a statue saying the evaluation tool can be tweaked and approved to fit the local needs.

“What are the expectations? The rules keep changing.”

Passed in response to low morale and low wages, the career ladder is Idaho’s $250 million plan to increase teacher pay. Ybarra’s is expected to ask the Legislature to spend about $58 million next year to increase teachers’ pay and benefits.

“If the career ladder is not affordable, please don’t blame that on educators and districts,” Ybarra said. “I’m not saying it’s not affordable. I’m saying, moving forward, everybody that I’ve spoken to, they’re very supportive of the career ladder. Don’t use that as an excuse to blame districts and teachers and hardworking professionals. They’re doing the best they can.”

In terms of the audit’s release, Ybarra said there was nothing in the report that justified releasing it to policymakers and the public during the nearly five months between when she received it July 11 and when Idaho EdNews published it Dec. 5.

“There was nothing about it that was hidden and there was nothing about it that was a secret,” Ybarra said.

“That fact it’s not being presented until December and was released in July — I had no reaction. There was nothing that was wrong. There was nothing that sent me a red flag up. It did exactly what it was intended to do, which was to clarify.”

Ybarra said that EdNews’ decision to publish the audit’s findings before she or the audit team could make a formal report to policy makers “is probably not best practices.”

Ybarra also said it is the responsibility of the review team from McREL International — not her office — to present the report’s findings. McREL’s team will travel to Idaho to present to audits findings to the State Board of Education later this week, Ybarra said.