Ohio, Others Mull Over New Teacher Evaluation Systems

There has been a bipartisan push for teacher evaluation reform after growing discontent with a traditional system of professional advancement based on tenure and seniority. Criticism was largely centered on the idea that union negotiations to maintain the status quo effectively protected bad teachers and blocked progression for young talented teachers. In many states, new teacher evaluation systems will begin to take effect next year — and one of the methods being tested in Ohio is the construction and evaluation of teacher portfolios that serve as a record of student work and lesson plans that highlights the teacher’s skill. As Julie Carr Smyth reports, approaches being tried by other states include parental reviews, student surveys, student growth metrics, and classroom observation.

Tim Melton is legislative director for the education reform group StudentsFirst:

“The biggest factor in school by far is an effective teacher in the classroom,” he said. “Everyone in the building knows who those people are. The difference now is there is a lot of robust data to show how things are going. The question is once you have it, what are you going to do with it?”

Teachers who gain consecutive poor ratings will first be offered help and if they fail to improve could lose their tenure. On the other hand, teachers who excel regularly will face less frequent evaluations.

The Obama Administration was part of the push for teacher evaluation reform by encouraging states to establish improved systems for teacher and principal evaluation with incentives such as Race to the Top grant money. States granted a waiver from No Child Left Behind also had to commit to certain policies such as teacher evaluation being based, at least in part, on student achievement.

Michelle Exstrom, an education program principal, said that in their current form evaluations were superficial and the reforms are much needed to avoid a situation where teachers almost all receive satisfactory ratings.

“These evaluation systems are meant to be much more authentic in assessing how students are doing,” she said. “And make no mistake: Teachers, parents and students all want this. It doesn’t do a teacher any good to get a positive evaluation that’s not accurate.”

Tammy Schmidt is one of over 100,000 teachers in Ohio who will fall under new teacher evaluation criteria next July. Ohio’s system sees a teacher’s rating based half on student growth as measured by a variety of metrics and half on teacher performance measured by teacher portfolios, classroom observation, and other means. Ohio’s system doesn’t involve parental review or student surveys.

Michelle Wimship, a reform consultant to the Ohio Education Association teachers union, said local school boards will hold the decision-making power on how the Ohio evaluation system will look. She is worried that this will lead to a patchwork of different approaches across the state making the evaluations hard to compare directly:

“It’s going to be very complicated and confusing,” she said. “We are watching with interest given the fact this new law was passed with no input from teachers, no input from administrators and no input from the state Department of Education.”

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