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Ohio teacher evaluations could use test scores for more growth, less judgment

By Patrick O'Donnell • Updated Mar 16, 2017 at 6:00 PM

COLUMBUS — Teacher evaluations and ratings in Ohio should be restructured to make them less judgmental and more focused on helping teachers improve, a state panel and Ohio Superintendent Paolo DeMaria said this week.

The key change out of six they propose would wipe out today's rating formula that uses student test scores to determine either 35 or 50 percent of a teacher's annual rating — a rating that is mostly symbolic.

Instead, test results and other measurements would be an "embedded" part of the other parts of the evaluation, like classroom visits and discussions with the principal or evaluator.

The evaluation process would also focus more on identifying ways teachers can improve, then following up during the year to help make progress toward those goals.

The use of test scores in teacher evaluations has been a sore spot for teachers and teacher unions since Ohio started requiring them statewide in 2013. The test scores component has also forced the creation of additional tests of students in subjects like art, music and gym just to rate the teacher.

The ratings do not have much tangible impact, other than in Cleveland which can fire teachers for low ratings and uses them in a limited way to determine raises. Some other districts give bonuses for string ratings and the state requires teachers with an "ineffective" rating in two out of three years to do more training and testing of their skills.

But there is still a fixation on the final rating of a teacher that hinders the ability of the evaluations to drive improvement, said Jeff Brown, superintendent of the Granville school district in central Ohio and a member of the Educator Standards Board that created the new recommendations.

Worries about the final rating creates a "tension" that "sometimes stops conversations and is demotivating to teachers," he told the state school board Monday, instead of letting teachers see evaluations as a chance for feedback and an opportunity to improve.

"The process of the teacher going through the evaluation is more important than what the final rating is," Brown said.

Jeannie Cerniglia, a teacher in the Southeast schools and also a member of the standards board, said the proposals should make the evaluations more about improvement than judging.

"This is a different mindset," Cerniglia said.

She later added, "We are trying to make sure that each teacher is growing based on their feedback."

The exact mechanism of how that would happen has not been determined. The standards board presented broad recommendations Monday, which the Ohio Department of Education hopes to refine by the state school board's next meeting April 10 and 11.

Any change would also require a law change, since the current evaluation structure was set by the state legislature.

DeMaria told the school board that it could vote to recommend a law change to the legislature.

The panel's proposals have already drawn strong support from the school board, which applauded the presentation.

Board member Pat Bruns, a retired teacher, said she was glad to be talking about a plan that could truly help schools. New board member Linda Haycock of Lima praised the "difference in tenor" between the old evaluation approach and this new one.

The Ohio Federation of Teachers, one of the state's two large teachers unions, also said Monday that it supports the proposals and praised DeMaria for letting the standards board recommend them.

The current evaluation system is split into two parts that are combined to determine a teacher's final rating of accomplished, skilled, developing or ineffective.

"Teacher Performance Standards" make up 50 percent of a rating. That portion is mostly scored through a series of short classroom observations and a long one in which teachers are measured against a set of good teaching practices.

This portion of the rating and the scoring rubric have strong support from teachers and the unions.

The other half is determined by how much progress students make in learning over a year, sometimes through the state's "value-added" measure, through other tests that districts pick or through student portfolios or surveys.

This half is what drives most of the "tension" Brown described.

The Educator Standards Board recommended:

1) Updating the scoring rubric: Jeff Cooney, a teacher in the Oregon schools near Toledo, said teachers like the rubric and consider it a "guiding post for what we do in our classroom."

The Educator Standards Board wants an expert to review it and make small changes, sometimes just minor language ones. Cooney said some language is confusing, like awarding a teacher one rating for a "seamless" transition between tasks and another rating for a "smooth" transition."

"We need to clean this language up," he said.

2) Embedding student growth measures into the rubric: This proposal was the least defined, but also the one the panel deemed most important.

Rather than have separate scores for meeting standards and for how much kids learn over a year, the panel wants them woven together.

"We want to emphasize it (data) even more in the reflective process," Brown said. Teachers and their evaluators would discuss the best data to measure their work, he said, using value-added where required by law.

School board member Sarah Fowler, who represents Geauga County and some surrounding areas, asked if that could mean eliminating some tests just for teacher evaluations.

"We are not there yet," Cerniglia said. "Teachers will chose with their collaborator the most appropriate data to use."

3) Eliminating "shared attribution": Not every teacher teaches a subject that has a state tests and a state "value-added" growth measure. So some districts take the value-added scores from the English and math teachers and apply them to every teacher in the school.

All teachers are then expected to collaborate to help all students do better.

That makes the rating simple, but offers no help in evaluating how an individual is doing in helping students, the panel said. And the hoped-for collaboration has not happened in practice.

4) Eliminating the "alternative" growth measures option': State law allows districts to opt to use state tests for 35 percent of the growth score and other local measures for 15 percent.

The proposal would just integrate alternate measures (like student surveys) into the regular scoring rubric, as it would with state tests.

5) Changing the timing and goal of observations: The plan would keep the same number of classroom visits by the evaluator, but shift some to after the main observation. The later visits would focus on how teachers are doing making changes suggested by earlier observations.

6) Eliminating the no-evaluation years for top-rated teachers: Teachers with high ratings can skip being evaluated each year and be rated every two or three years instead.

The new proposal would have all teachers evaluated every year, but the top-rated teachers would have scaled-back evaluations focused on how well they are doing on their own individual growth plans.

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