Ybarra clashes with State Board members over accountability data

Schools chief Sherri Ybarra lost her fight Thursday to block the collection of additional data that State Board of Education officials and Gov. Butch Otter said is necessary to determine whether teachers are properly earning pay raises.

Board members say lawmakers are urging them to provide additional data to track teachers’ movement up and down the career ladder. The 2015 career ladder law is Idaho’s $250 million plan to increase teacher salaries.

Following a tense debate, board members voted 7-1 to pass a temporary rule calling for collecting four additional data points from districts. Ybarra cast the only dissenting vote, after announcing that the State Department of Education is not supposed to provide direct supervision of school districts.

Ybarra and her team opposed collecting the data for several reasons:

  • Ybarra views data collection as a burden on local districts.
  • Ybarra disagreed that legislators wanted the additional data.
  • Ybarra and her staff don’t see value in that data.

Otter education liaison Marilyn Whitney said it’s plainly obvious why lawmakers and the public would seek out the data.

“There is very clear value to the data that is being requested and the value is the $250 million that the career ladder will cost over five years,” Whitney said. “So there is a price tag on that data.”

The State Board approved collection of the following data points, effective immediately:

  • A teacher’s annual evaluation rating (data that is already collected).
  • The number of components on an evaluation scored as “unsatisfactory.”
  • A yes/no response to the question of whether a majority of a teacher’s students met their achievement targets.
  • A list of the tool (or tools) used to measure student achievement or success.
  • And a yes/no response as to whether the teacher has an individualized professional learning plan.

The debate over data collection and accountability played out after Idaho Education News documented widespread errors in teacher evaluation reports over the previous two years. In each of the past two years, some superintendents told EdNews they deliberately and falsely reported to the state that every single one of their district’s teachers earned identical evaluation scores.

That evaluation data is used to determine whether a teacher can move up the career ladder, and earn a pay raise.

Ybarra and Chief Deputy Superintendent Pete Koehler repeatedly expressed frustration Thursday with what they called “unprofessional comments” about the accuracy of teacher evaluations. They did not say who made these comments, and did not express concern about the documented pattern of deliberately false data reported to the State Department of Education.

Last month, Otter told Idaho EdNews that teacher evaluation data was “incomplete, terribly incomplete” and suggested that continued career ladder funding could hinge on the accuracy of data reports.

On Thursday, Ybarra suggested the additional data collection lies outside her responsibility and is not necessary to determine teacher pay. She also said the department provides only “general supervision” of districts.

Ybarra and Koehler told the board that they have taken great pride in reducing the number of data points school districts are required to report. Since Ybarra took office in 2015, that number has dropped from about 660 data points to about 360.

Ybarra and Koehler appeared frustrated with the request for increased data collection — both in conjunction with the career ladder and the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

“We are moving away from collecting more data and taking the burden off school districts,” Ybarra said.

Koehler, a former principal and interim superintendent with the Nampa School District, told the board that he views that data as “pointless,” “worthless” and “frankly of no use to anybody unless you are a data guru.”

At that point, Board President Emma Atchley interrupted Koehler, and said she felt uncomfortable with any suggestion that the board was collecting data for no reason.

This is at least the third time in recent months that the State Board and lawmakers have pushed back against inaccurate data collected and maintained by Ybarra’s department.

Earlier this year, the Legislature took oversight of teacher evaluation data away from Ybarra’s office and gave it to the State Board.

Then, last month, the State Board called for $50,000 fines to be levied against superintendents who deliberately submit incorrect teacher evaluation data to the state more than once.