Once again, Ohio teachers are going to face a new state-mandated evaluation system — but this time, most agree that it’s a good thing.
Ohio lawmakers have struggled for years to craft a teacher evaluation system that both teachers and administrators think is fair, not overly burdensome, and actually furthers the goal of better classroom instruction.
Lawmakers last week sent a wide-ranging education policy bill to Gov. John Kasich that includes the latest iteration of the state’s teacher evaluation system — one that supporters say will properly utilize student growth data.
For years, the federal requirement that states use tests to evaluate teachers made it difficult to craft a system, said Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee. Under Ohio’s current evaluations, 50 percent is based on test scores measuring student growth.
As questions over the validity of the tests grew, Lehner said, "evaluations based on those tests are brought into question too."
When President Barack Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015, it required less reliance on those tests.
"The evaluation process should be an education for the teachers, helping them understand where their weaknesses are," Lehner said. "Cut-and-dry test scores as 50 percent of your evaluation, where you fail because your students failed, didn’t leave much room for conversations about what you can do to improve."
The new evaluation, which needs Kasich’s signature to become law, is backed by both of the state’s major teachers unions. Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, told lawmakers it allows for "a much deeper analysis of how well a teacher is performing."
Talking to lawmakers earlier this year, Jonathan Juravich, the 2018 Ohio Teacher of the Year and an elementary art educator in the Olentangy schools, described his process under the current evaluation system — "arbitrary" early predictions on how students will perform, and the relief at year’s end when a student scored one point over the growth target.
He said his growth data and in-class observations were positive. "But instead of focusing on how these two areas are entwined, or how they should be reflective of one another, these two halves of my evaluation are considered in isolation."
Senate Bill 216 would allow the evaluations to give informative feedback, Juravich said, by gauging how teachers are using that data to improve instruction. "No longer would student growth measures be used as a disconnected evaluation factor linked to an arbitrary weighted percentage."
The bill implements changes recommended this year by the Educator Standards Board, a group including teachers, school administrators, parents and professors. Changes include doing away with shared attribution — growth measures attributed to a group of teachers that, critics say, does not accurately measure individual performance and can protect bad teachers.
Schools must implement the new evaluation for the 2020-21 school year.
This is the third time lawmakers have changed the teacher evaluation system since it was first implemented in the 2013-14 school year.
Rep. Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo, a former teacher, said the bill makes overdue changes to an evaluation that "has been flawed and broken from the very beginning."
"Originally it was set to be too punitive. There were too many complicated elements that made teaching and evaluations an onerous task," she said, adding the new bill allows for productive conversations on improving instruction.
"This is what an evaluation system should be."
State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria also praised the latest changes.
"Most importantly, we want our teachers on a path of continuous improvement, and with these changes, the system places a greater focus on improvement in teacher practices that lead to better outcomes for students," he said.