Educators feel betrayed over teacher evaluation audit

The audit of teacher evaluations that came out last week “is so inaccurate and completely invalid that it should be thrown out,” said Andy Grover, superintendent of Melba schools. “Absolutely no public policy should be based on this audit.”

Ryan Kerby
Rep. Ryan Kerby

Last week, a legislatively required audit of the quality of teacher evaluations in Idaho became public. The audit, completed by McREL International of Denver, Colo., claimed that 99 percent of a random sample of evaluations, completed by principals, were inaccurate or incomplete.

State Board of Education President Emma Atchley announced that the state board will be addressing the issue at its Dec. 15 meeting, saying, “The audit raises serious concerns regarding the teacher evaluation process conducted during the 2014-2015 school year. Directions from the board to school districts will be communicated in the near future,” She then announced that more professional development will be required for all educators, along with a number of other sanctions. All of this without a cursory phone call or two to determine the validity of the audit.

Accurately quoting the invalid McREL audit, Idaho EdNews posted an article disparaging the poor job Idaho school administrators do of completing teacher evaluations. If the EdNews writers had visited with some school administrators who provided data for the audit they would have known how far off base this audit had strayed, and their article would have painted an entirely different picture.

Educators feel betrayed.

Pat Charlton, superintendent of Vallivue and president of the Region III superintendents, said: “evaluations of teachers is the most important function of the year for principals. Our principals know what they are doing, and work hard throughout the year to get evaluations done correctly.”

“Our principals have gone through intensive training on teacher evaluations’” said Shalene French, who was the Bonneville School District of Idaho Falls’ Director of Human Resources last year during this audit. (Now superintendent of Caldwell schools.) “I can tell you that every one of our teacher evaluations in 2014-15 completely met each and every state requirement.”

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There are legislators unhappy about the abuse that is going on as a result of this invalid audit.  Rep. Brent Crane of Nampa, assistant majority leader in the House, at a meeting of superintendents and legislators last week where this was being discussed, said “we very much want a culture of trust between educators and us as a Legislature.” Crane said this after being told by superintendents that when unfounded information like this audit is propagating is used to make them look bad unfairly, trust between educators and governing bodies is eroded.

Here are some of the “findings” of the McREL audit, and some comments about those findings from Idaho school administrators.

  • The McREL audit reports that “For the 2014-15 school year only 39 percent of evaluations included two classroom observations, as Idaho law requires.”

One small problem. During this audit, Idaho’s administrators were not asked to provide documentation of the classroom observations that were used to put together the final evaluation for each teacher. The only thing they were asked for was the evaluation itself. James Gilbert, superintendent of Mountain Home, said, “our principals make 10 classroom observations per teacher per year, each visit is documented, and the notes taken during the visit are also forwarded to the teacher. If the auditors had asked for the observation paperwork we would gladly have included it with the evaluation materials we sent them.”

Wendy Johnson, superintendent of the Kuna school district, concurred with Gilbert. “Idaho Code requires districts to keep the final cumulative evaluations in teacher’s files, but does not require that the observation documents be kept. Furthermore, we weren’t asked to send observation documentation to auditors.”

So, the classroom observations were not requested by the auditors and schools aren’t required to keep them. It is actually surprising that these observations were included in 39 percent of the audited evaluations. But Idaho’s administrators are being soundly criticized anyway!

  • The McREL audit reports that “Most evaluations (55 percent) did not include an individualized professional learning plan or goals of any kind.”

This audit was of 2014-15 evaluations. Idaho did not start requiring these individualized learning plans until the 2015-16 school year. French said that “we were not asked for the teacher learning plans, and we shouldn’t have been asked, because they were not required to be a part of evaluations before 2015-16.”

Johnson said that “in Kuna our teachers have been writing professional learning plans for several years. They are exactly what the state requires, and are connected to student achievement outcomes.” “All of our teachers,” she continued, “have great learning plans, and we would have been more than happy to send them in if we had been asked.”

  • The McREL audit reports that “More than one third of the evaluations audited (37.6 percent) were not turned in to the state by May 1, as required at the time.”

May 1 was a good deadline for teacher evaluations for many years because the evaluations were determined by principals going into teacher’s classrooms several times during the year, observing and taking notes, then using that information to write the annual evaluation. It could easily be finished by May 1.

In 2013 the state began requiring that teacher evaluations be based two-thirds on principal observation, and one-third on student achievement data. The types of student achievement data that could be used was listed in Idaho Code. The list included ISAT scores, End of Course Assessments (EOC’s), Idaho Reading Indicator (IRI) scores, and several others, most of which are not available until the end of the school year, long after the May 1 deadline. As a result, Idaho had conflicting statutes until the 2016 Legislature changed the evaluation deadline to June 1.

Because of these conflicting statutes, up until 2016 some districts used partial year or prior year data, since measuring what students learned during the course of the whole school year wasn’t possible by May 1. Many districts however, including Kuna, used full year data such as ISAT scores, EOC’s, or IRI, and turned in placeholder data to the state in May. They then sent in the final actual teacher evaluation scores when they became available at the end of the school year. Johnson said “turning in the placeholder data early May, and final evaluation scores in June, was the best we could do since our student achievement data, that was allowed by the state, wasn’t available until the end of the school year. Thankfully, the Legislature changed the deadline to June 1.”

Idaho EDNews stated numerous administrators, including Johnson, deliberately falsified teacher evaluation reports the past two years when they turned in placeholder data in May. (Editor’s note: The article was published on June 29). My suggestion for these writers would be to gain a better understanding of those district’s interpretation of Idaho Code, then respectfully make an effort to find out what is going on in schools that are trying to give an accurate picture of the effect of a teacher on student learning in a given school year by using full year achievement data.

Looking at this whole situation, lots of groups have made some fairly serious errors, and principals are not one of those groups.

The State Department of Education was responsible for requesting the evaluation data from school districts that was provided to McREL. Hopefully in future audits all information needed will be requested, and no data will be requested that is not a part of Idaho law.

The State Board should not have had a knee jerk reaction to require a boatload of professional development that administrators will now need to do, along with a number of other sanctions, without making some phone calls to figure out the truth of what had been reported to them — 99 percent bad evaluations should have been a red flag.

The Legislature should have changed the evaluation deadline to June 1 back in 2013 when they started requiring student data be on third of the evaluation, instead of waiting until 2016 to make the modification in Idaho law.

From the looks of this mess, the bodies governing public schools would be the folks who need some professional development, rather than the educators. If we want to build the trust Rep. Crane is talking about with our schools, the only thing our superintendents, principals and teachers deserve right now is an apology.

Written by Rep. Ryan Kerby, a Republican who serves District 9 and holds a seat on the House Education Committee. He was the superintendent of the New Plymouth School District for 21 years.