Among a slew of bills that passed the Statehouse this week was Senate Bill 229, which would make the new system for evaluating Ohio teachers a little less rigid and burdensome for teachers and school districts.
To improve the quality of teaching, you need a system of rating teachers that is consistent, fair and accurate in identifying different levels of competence. Ohio policymakers have focused during the past several years on raising the quality and effectiveness of classroom teachers. The emphasis is necessary. Research indicates that a competent teacher in the classroom is one of the most important predictors of student achievement in the school setting
The system for evaluating Ohio teachers was overdue for change, a fact well-recognized by educators and legislators alike. Typically, evaluations found the performance of the majority of teachers satisfactory. Yet legislators struggled to craft a replacement for a process that was barely credible. This school year, a new teacher evaluation system, developed by the State Board of Education, finally went into effect.
But the initiative has not been without controversy, and for good reasons, generally. The new system calls for evaluations based on multiple factors, one of which is student academic growth. The evaluation also includes at least two formal observations of teachers, covering at least 30 minutes each. Fifty percent of the teacher’s rating would be based on student growth, and the other 50 percent on classroom assessments.
For math and reading teachers in fourth through eighth grade, there is a “value-added” measure, which seeks to quantify how much a teacher contributed to student learning within a year. The evaluations would factor into decisions on promotions, retentions and raises.
Teachers argue, most reasonably, that it is unfair to put so much weight on student growth when other factors of student achievement — say, family dynamics that interfere with regular school attendance — are outside the control of teachers. In response, Senate Bill 229 scales down the student-growth factor to 35 percent, giving districts discretion to use other factors such as student surveys. In addition, the bill reduces the frequency of formal observations for the best teachers, addressing school administrators’ concerns about the time and paperwork involved.
Reasonable tweaks, these changes should not compromise the drive to improve the quality of teaching in Ohio schools.