Bill Gates not a fan of Ohio's PE evaluations

Under Ohio state law, public schools will be required to have a teacher evaluation system in place by July 2014. Half of the teacher evaluation formula is to be based on student learning growth on exams. For some subjects, this puts schools in awkward situation of having to evaluate for example, gym or art teachers—subjects that don’t have established exams and tests.

The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) has published manuals for evaluating teachers of these hard-to-measure subjects. But, as Terry Ryan recently reported—some of these guidelines border on the absurd.

Even the august champion of teacher evaluations, Bill Gates, worried about “hastily contrived” teacher evaluations. He writes in the Washington Post:

Efforts are being made to define effective teaching and give teachers the support they need to be as effective as possible. But as states and districts rush to implement new teacher development and evaluation systems, there is a risk they’ll use hastily contrived, unproven measures. One glaring example is the rush to develop new assessments in grades and subjects not currently covered by state tests. Some states and districts are talking about developing tests for all subjects, including choir and gym, just so they have something to measure.

Mr. Gates reiterated his point by citing Ohio’s recent gym teacher evaluation manual as an example. Gates’ commentary provoked responses, from Anthony Cody in Education Week and Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post.

Gates is right to point out the challenges in assessing the effectiveness of teachers of some subject-areas. All shouldn’t be lost though, even in a subject like gym class: As Terry observed, physical fitness is important for youngsters’ cognitive development. So, there’s nothing ipso facto wrong in demanding the best from our gym teachers—just as with our math, English, and history teachers.

If what ODE has published sounds goofy and as such should be scrapped, the question still remains: How should physical education teachers—and art and music teachers for that matter—be held accountable? Or, should teachers in these subjects get a free pass, while their colleagues are faced with a rigorous evaluation system? The comment box is open!

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