Ohio wading cautiously into teacher-evaluation waters

In 2011 the State Board of Education, prompted by a requirement in House Bill 153, developed a new framework for teacher evaluations, to be implemented by all districts starting with the 2013-14 school year. But the standards-based teacher evaluations are coming early to Ohio. The Marietta Times reported that some school districts in the Buckeye State will be piloting the new system during 2012-13. Frontier Local, Marietta City, and Wolf Creek districts will all be trying out the result of HB 153 (as will other districts around the state)—but not without some reservations (find detailed information on the Bill here).

While new policies can be exciting, school officials are finding them challenging to implement. HB 153 requires both principal and teacher evaluations. For the latter, at least 50 percent of a teacher’s rating must be dependent on student academic growth. The process also includes at least two observations and a conference before and after each observation for each evaluation. Superintendents have raised eyebrows at the estimated 15-20 hours per-teacher time commitment these rigorous evaluations may require. To meet these time requirements, Frontier Local School District’s Board of Education approved the transfer of a principal from one school to serve as part-time assistant principal at another.

Other Ohio districts can begin thinking creatively about these issues before they adopt this policy in 2013. For districts already short-staffed, it will take strategic planning to conduct these evaluations properly. However, contract language can have a significant impact on how time consuming evaluations become – because-- all teachers may not have to be evaluated every year and the bill does not specify who must conduct evaluations. In Wolf Creek, the superintendent is brainstorming ways to lessen the burden on principals and considering outside support. However, even this has its drawbacks. Wolf Creek stressed the importance of finding someone who understands the district’s philosophy and has done more than simply “meet the state requirements for an evaluator.” Since every district is a little different (and with Ohio having more than 600 districts and roughly 350 charter schools), it is not hard to understand why being familiar with their particular nuances is an advantage.

Nuances or none, all Ohio districts will soon have to face these issues, and may begin to question whether it’s worth the trouble. Where the pilot may work well in some districts, it may not be a good fit in others. Wolf Creek, for example, claims to not have the problem the new system primarily aims to fix (poor teachers staying in the classroom). Some may find the time devoted to evaluations superfluous. Some may run into staffing complications. Others may dread additional costs associated with measuring the 50 percent student growth component in non state-tested subjects. In any case, tough decisions must be made and stakeholders will definitely be keeping a close watch on how these pilot districts fare in the upcoming school year.

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