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Almost every Idaho teacher earned top marks on evaluations

Education

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IDAHO FALLS (IdahoEdNews.org) — Nearly 99 percent of Idaho’s teachers earned top marks on their evaluations from the most recent school year, the highest rate since legislators tied pay to performance.

According to data released by the State Board of Education, 19,063 out of 19,361 educators evaluated received one of the top two overall evaluation scores for the 2019-20. That corresponds to about 98.5 percent of all evaluations.

A year ago, 98.1 percent of all evaluations earned one of the top two scores.

There are four possible scores a teacher could earn: unsatisfactory, basic, proficient or distinguished.

Statewide 27 teachers earned overall scores of unsatisfactory while 271 teachers earned scores of basic. That’s out of a pool of almost 20,000 educators.

The 98.5 percent proficient and distinguished rating was the highest in the six years that Idaho Education News has compiled and tracked teacher evaluation data.

Teacher evaluations are increasingly high stakes in Idaho because the Legislature tied a teacher’s ability to earn a raise by moving up the career ladder salary system to performance on evaluations.

By law, all teachers must receive an evaluation every year and student achievement is required to factor into the score.

Other Idaho EdNews findings include:

  • 30 districts and charters awarded identical overall scores of proficient to every teacher on staff.
  • 89 districts and charters awarded every teacher one of the top two overall scores of proficient or distinguished.
  • Most districts or charters award one of four scores. But for some large districts, including Boise, there are only three possible scores. The highest score, distinguished was not an option. That’s changing this year.

The evaluations system has been flawed and subject to controversy at least since the Legislature tied performance to pay. In 2017, the Professional Standards Commission, which oversees certification in Idaho, reprimanded former superintendent and state Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, and former superintendent Alan Dunn for violating their code of ethics and failing to comply state laws and rules from completing teacher evaluations.

In 2015, Kerby, who is now vice chairman of the House Education Committee, told Idaho Education News he intentionally submitted data showing all teachers earned identical overall evaluation scores because he didn’t think it was any of the state’s business. That same year, Dunn told Idaho Education News he intentionally altered teacher evaluation data and submitted identical scores to the state in order to protect employee privacy.

In 2018, the State Board of Education reviewed a sample of nearly 800 teacher evaluations and found that 56 percent of the evaluations for 2015-16 complied with state evaluation laws.

A look at evaluations in the field

Boise

In Boise, the state’s second largest school district, 1,763 of 1,773 teachers evaluated in 2019-20 received an overall score of proficient, according to state data. That’s 99.4 percent.

Across the Boise district, nine teachers scored unsatisfactory and one scored basic.

The pandemic, which closed most schools suddenly in March, affected the evaluations process for Boise in some ways. One of the biggest ways had to do with factoring student achievement into the evaluation scores because the state waived some standardized tests and administration of the free SAT Day and both of those metrics could have been used.

“Some people had to completely pivot and use a different measure,” Human Resources Director Nick Smith said.

In response, they swapped in student learning objectives, formative assessments, end of course exams, pre- and post-tests, teacher-constructed assessments of student growth or one of the other measures the state allows.

The pandemic did not affect the required classroom observations in Boise because the district likes to complete them earlier in the year, before spring testing.

“For us, the majority of our evaluations, at least the observations, were completed prior to the shutdown due to COVID,” Smith said. “For those that were not, we directed the evaluating administrators to complete the classroom observation in a virtual setting.”

The district handled many of its post evaluation conferences virtually. Those are meetings where teachers and their administrator talk about the evaluation and identify ways to improve teaching.

“We got everything completed as we typically would,” Smith said. “It was certainly more challenging, no question about that.”

With all but 10 teachers out of more than 1,700 earning identical overall evaluation scores, it is basically impossible for the public to use that data to understand differentiation among teaching performance and quality in one of the state’s largest districts. It’s essentially the same thing that’s going on across the state.

Smith said the differentiation comes in the form of scores on 22 individual components, and the post evaluation conference between a teacher and principal. That information is not released by the state or school districts.

“That is the full intention of that post-evaluation conference is to go through the evaluation and have those conversations about areas where growth may be needed and talk about what does proficiency look like in this component.”

The district did not offer a score of distinguished, even though distinguished is one of four scores outlined in Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching, which the state uses as the basis for teacher evaluations.

This year, Boise added a distinguished score for evaluation to comply with the new advanced professional rung of the career ladder Gov. Brad Little and the Legislature approved in 2020.

Boise teachers would not have been eligible to climb to the new rung and earn higher pay this year under the advanced professional rung, but Little issued budget holdbacks that called for freezing teacher pay anyway, so it was sort of a moot point.

“When COVID19 hit, it was all-hands-on-deck dealing with that. We didn’t have time to make adjustment to our evaluation model and redo evaluations that were already complete,” Smith said.

Distinguished is in place in Boise now.

Madison

Across the state in the Madison School District, 94 percent of teachers earned one of the two highest evaluation scores. Madison actually had one of the highest levels of differentiation among Idaho’s medium or large districts.

  • 18 teachers earned scores of basic.
  • 222 earned scores of proficient.
  • 49 earned scores of distinguished.

Madison conducts two full evaluations annually and the process wasn’t really affected by the pandemic or school closures, said Darnea Lamb, director of assessment, data accountability, literacy and CTE in Madison.

The district does a fall evaluation in November and then the spring evaluations process begins in January. The scores reflect the growth a teacher shows on each component of the evaluation throughout the year. Documents such as lesson plans and professional learning plans, the documented observations and evidence such as student achievement are factored in.

Cancelling standardized testing did not affect evaluations in Madison because the district is vocally opposed to the ISAT test aligned to Common Core standards.

“We call it ‘the dreaded SBAC,’” Lamb said. “We never use it as a piece of evidence.”

Madison administrators take pride in using evaluations as a tool to help improve teaching, Lamb said.

That’s one of the reasons she said the district doesn’t have any basic scores. When Lamb was a principal, she said a teacher would never just be finding out that he or she had a low score when they get their evaluation.

“You have discussions throughout the year, you don’t let stuff go,” Lamb said. “Sometimes you have weekly meetings with people who are struggling, to go over various piece and parts of that.”

Lamb keeps evaluations for employees on file with color coded scores on each component and each domain for each teacher.

Just looking at the clashing colors, Lamb said with confidence “no two are alike.”

When Madison sends the spring evaluation scores to the state, the job isn’t done. Staff review scores from each building, analyzing strengths and weaknesses. They then design professional development and tailor the training sessions to the needs of each building’s staff.

“That’s so we know what we need to concentrate on,” she said. “We use data to plan our future needs for professional development.”

Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader contributed research and compiled data for this this report.

This article was originally posted on IdahoEdNews.org on October 28, 2020.

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