For all the talk about local control of schools, a great deal of education policy comes from the state. And that includes the appraisal of teachers. Most K-12 instructors in Ohio are graded and classified according to the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System. That assessment has changed several times since it was written in 2011.
Now a new version has been submitted to the Ohio Board of Education that could resolve some long-held complaints.
Job evaluations can be difficult in any line of work. But state school superintendent Paolo DeMaria says teachers are so important that they have to be evaluated.
“I’ll hear school building principals say ‘we’re not afraid of accountability.’ And I’ll hear teachers say ‘I’m willing to be held accountable.’ The reality always is the fairness of that accountability, right?”
Today 50 percent of their performance is assessed through observation by school administrators. And for most, the other 50 percent of their grade is based on how their pupils do – either on overall Student Learning Objectives or on the so-called value-added tests administered by the state at the beginning and end of the year.
The 21 educators -- 11 are teachers -- who make up the Ohio Educator Standards Board are proposing that student performance will no longer be a separate measure in teacher ratings. Instead, it will be incorporated into the overall teacher evaluation.
“It’s all intertwined” says standards member Jeff Brown.
The superintendent of Granville Schools says embedding test scores would make them less of a distraction. Then, he says, the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES) becomes more about process than about student data.
“I’ve had many examples of teachers using this data in a penalty-free environment prior to OTES. So it wasn’t part of their teacher evaluation system. But we put the data in front of them and they used the data to drive their instructional changes. If you give them the right data and the right information, they want to do what’s best for their students.”
Teachers are given one of 5 grades: the highest rating is accomplished. And those grades can determine their salary levels.
School board member Meryl Johnson, a former teacher, says she’s heard of districts that tell teachers they cannot get the accomplished grade if their overall building performance is low.
“In visiting some schools, teacher morale is really, really low. ... I ask teachers on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being 'I’m so happy to be here,' what is your morale and I’ve been getting ones and twos and some teachers have even said, 'Can I do zero?’”
Standards Board member Jeff Brown agrees that many in public education have been demoralized.
“So I think there is some fatigue across the state but I think this is a way to really shift that energy towards a more positive approach, toward professional growth, that’s less punitive, that will drive better improvement overall.”
Several board of education members are concerned about testing kids just to help evaluate teachers.
“Is there an opportunity here to lower the amount of tests our students are taking, but still provide the opportunity for teachers to receive an evaluation that helps them grow?” asks Stephanie Dodd.
Standards Board member Jeannie Cerniglia says student data is useful for teachers looking to improve their methods. Cerniglia is a seventh-grade math teacher in Wayne County.
“They want less testing, I get that. As a teacher I completely understand it; I live in that world. Less paperwork: I get that," she said. “But in the end, our heart is with doing what’s best for our kids.”
Other proposed changes in teacher evaluations would require every instructor to go through an evaluation every year. Currently those rated accomplished are assessed only every third year and those rated skilled are evaluated every other year.
The Ohio Board of Education can approve changes to the teacher evaluation system but state legislators have the final say.