New teacher evals worry some local districts

Student progress is a key measure under system that some schools must have in place soon.

Ohio will require most districts to evaluate teachers in a new way next school year, but the complicated and time-consuming process has some local educators concerned.

Put simply, the new Ohio Teacher Evaluation Systems (OTES) bases 50 percent of a teacher’s rating on student performance within state standards and the other half on progress made by their students, according to the Ohio Department of Education.

From those combined scores, teachers can earn one of four ratings: accomplished, proficient, developing or ineffective. The idea behind the new system is to standardize how Ohio teachers are evaluated.

The program was mandated by state legislators who said evaluations should emphasize student improvement.

That’s fairer to teachers and students, state Sen. Chris Widener, R-Springfield, has said. It left it up to the district to determine what student growth means, he said.

“That sounds very straight forward, and in some grades it is very straight forward,” Springfield Schools Superintendent David Estrop said. “But some of the issues that have come out of this are not all subject matters or all grades have state tests.”

So districts must figure out on their own how to assess the progress of their students in subjects like physical education and at grade levels like second grade that don’t have state tests.

“Which means instead of having one standard … now you’re going to end up with 613 different tests in PE because there are 613 school districts (in the state),” he said.

That has left some districts little time to come up with assessment procedures.

Springfield won’t be required to implement it until the 2014-15 school year when the district and the teachers union enter into a new contract, but Northeastern will have to be ready later this year.

The results of a pilot program using OTES have been encouraging, Northeastern Superintendent Lou Kramer said. All schools there are rated excellent with distinction.

“I think to a person, they have spurred much more valuable conversations than our current evaluation system. And, ultimately, I think those conversations, from a professional development standpoint for the teacher, and also for the impact on the student in each of those classrooms, is very positive,” Kramer said.

However, he has concerns about how the district would define that 50 percent based on student growth.

“The biggest concern is the unknown because the student growth measures are only defined in a minority of teaching assignments right now through value-added data based on the state assessments,” he said.

The time left to implement it is also of a concern for Northeastern, Kramer added. It will need to come up with a program and come to agreement with the teacher’s union there by July 1, then implement it next school year.

Estrop also believes it’s an inequitable evaluation solution for some teachers and principals — who are also being rated through a similar process called OPES.

Take for example the situation at Keifer Alternative School, where the district piloted OTES and OPES this year before it rolls it out district-wide.

Keifer, as a school, is rated as being in academic emergency by the state.

Yet in evaluations this year under the piloted OTES and OPES, teachers and the principal as individuals received high marks.

And, he said, the pilot program found an inherent inequity between teachers there and those at already high-performing schools.

Because students at Keifer have more room to grow academically than their peers, their teachers receive higher scores on their individual evaluation because their students can show more progress, Estrop said.

In an April 16 email to Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction Richard A. Ross, Estrop also expressed concern with what he calls a misalignment between the two state rating systems and federal education mandates.

“The problem becomes even worse when the federal accountability standards are mixed in because Race to the Top and the School Improvement Grant (SIG) programs calls for the new evaluation systems, but the feds do not recognize progress, only performance,” he wrote.

“The problem is essentially the (federal) SIG program would have us remove the principal because of a lack of school performance while at the stame time having the principal receive the highest rating using the new OPES for student performance based upon progress,” he wrote, giving the example of Keifer.

Ross had not responded as of Wednesday.

Springfield Education Association President Kathy Richison is also concerned.

“Some administrators are very, very concerned about the time element that is required to complete an evaluation on one teacher,” she said. “As a union president, that certainly concerns me, because sometimes when we get in a hurry to meet a deadline, are we as efficient as what we could be if we didn’t have the deadline that was encroaching on us?”

And how to fairly evaluate such staff as counselors or student support facilitators has her concerned, too. OTES requires certified staff in a position to teach or with responsibility for student education to be evaluated, she said.

She said her opinions about the process may change when she attends training on it in two weeks.

“It just seems like if our legislators had spent more time with educators in the process of developing the OTES program, it could possibly have been much more beneficial, and I think we will find ourselves involved in a lot of legal matters and a lot of going back to the table,” she said.

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