In their latest evaluation, almost 98% of Rhode Island teachers were rated as effective or highly effective by their principals. However, that high statistic is not mirrored by the number of students who performed well in districts throughout the state.
This is the second year in a row that a high percentage of teachers and administrators, which included 99% of principals, were given high rankings.
Over 99% of teachers in half of the 52 school districts in the state were rated effective or highly effective. At least 90% were given this ranking in all the districts.
The latest evaluation also saw 37 school districts not rate a single teacher ineffective, which included West Warwick, home to struggling schools.
Education specialists said the results show that the evaluations are not being used effectively. If they were, the high rankings would not be seen across the board as they are, particularly in districts with low-performing schools.
"If everyone here was at 98 percent, Rhode Island would be leading the nation" in student achievement, "not Massachusetts," said Tim Duffy, executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees.
According to Duffy, teachers and principals are looking at the evaluations as an activity instead of the serious tool meant to help children in the classroom.
Many districts in the state show high ranking teachers but feature low student achievement, in many cases falling behind state averages.
In a survey last year, less than half of teachers in the state reported feeling that the evaluations were accurate in terms of teacher effectiveness. In addition, almost 75% of principals said they gave teachers a higher ranking than they actually earned.
Those two questions were not included in this year's survey.
According to state Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist, teachers need to view the evaluations as an opportunity for improvement rather than as a punishment.
"Implementing a system for the first time is a lot of hard work," Gist said. "We want to get away from the notion that someone rated as developing is a punitive thing. We want to help our educators understand that what matters is the feedback."
The five teacher evaluations adopted in 2011 are meant help teachers improve while offering a more rigorous and consistent evaluation method. Several items are included in the evaluations, including test scores, professional training and student-learning targets, a method of measuring student progress.
The two teachers unions in the state are not happy with the use of the evaluations, which hold serious punishments for those who do not receive a satifactory ranking. If a teacher is rated ineffective for more than two years, that teacher could be fired. Those teachers who are rated ineffective for over five years could possibly lose their state certification.
In 2013, Gist removed using test scores as part of the evaluation in response to teacher concerns. And more recently, she stated that yearly classroom observations of teachers were no longer necessary after principals complained.
Over the summer, the General Assembly voted to delay the evaluations of effective teachers by two years and highly effective teachers by three years.
Similar results were seen in Louisiana, which rated 92% of its teachers effective, and the Flint Community School District in Michigan, where 94% of teachers and 99% of principals were rated effective, even though the district has many schools receiving an "F." The problem there is much the same as it is in Rhode Island, as evaluations do not track student performance, which shows many of its students as being deficient in math and reading.