Greg Harris is Ohio state director for StudentsFirst.
Despite fierce efforts to derail the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System midway through its first year of implementation (the 2013–2014 academic year), it survived. Now the results are in, and preliminary analysis suggests that 90 percent of Ohio teachers fared well. More importantly, a cultural shift is underway that is pushing more principals to observe and interact with teachers—and placing far greater emphasis the impact of teachers on kids.
In December 2013, the Ohio Senate unanimously passed SB 229, which sought to exempt teachers rated in the top two categories (“Accomplished” or “Skilled”) from annual evaluations under the new Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES). Proponents argued that by exempting the best teachers, schools could focus their energies on developing less effective teachers.
While the bill was reasonable on its face, a deeper look showed cause for concern. Historically, the vast majority of Ohio teachers had been rated in those top two tiers and would be exempted from evaluation if trends held. This promised a sharp reduction in annual OTES participation.
Such a reduction in participation would prove especially unfortunate in light of the fact that OTES represented the first time in Ohio history that teacher evaluation has been linked to student outcomes. Thus, a genuine effort to improve teacher quality in Ohio required the full participation of its teachers.
With this in mind, StudentsFirst Ohio worked to defeat the Senate legislation. Former House Education Chairman Gerald Stebelton emerged as a profile in courage in halting SB 229 and negotiating more sound alternatives that stuck with the driving principles of OTES: a teacher evaluation system based, in part, on how well teachers actually teach.
A year later, our suspicions are confirmed: The ratios of teacher participation in OTES would have been seriously compromised had SB 229 been enacted. Indeed, according to recent Ohio Education Research Center (OERC) findings, approximately 90 percent of Ohio teachers rated in the top two categories. The vast majority of teachers would have been therefore exempted from annual evaluations in the coming years—hardly good for the integrity of the system.
While no new policy change is flawless, OTES in its first year appears to have given teachers more than a fair process. Most teachers would presumably agree that 10 percent of their colleagues are probably not effective. (OERC’s study rated 9 percent of teachers as “developing” and 1 percent as “ineffective.”)
OTES’ first-year outcomes hardly fit the rhetorical fury and fierce lobbying behind the campaign to pass SB 229. A MoveOn petition circulated by the Ohio Federation of Teachers, for example, cast efforts to modify SB 229 in the House as “needlessly engaging Ohio’s effective teachers,” and worse, “an extreme attack on educators.” And despite the sweat equity of the educators, non-profit organizations, and departmental staff who designed OTES (as well as legislation passed to implement the comprehensive new system) those who sought to defend its first-year implementation were miscast as villains.
In truth, the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System is not an attack on teachers. It is a thoughtful system created to evaluate teachers according to multiple measures. Approximately half of the evaluation is linked to a teacher’s impact on her pupils’ academic growth. The value-added measures, where they apply, are intended to ensure that all kids make academic progress from the beginning to the end of the school year, albeit with allowances for assessing student progress from their varying starting points. In other words, a student starting fourth grade at a first-grade reading level isn’t expected to make four years of academic progress in one year. The expectation is steady progress, not miracles.
The OERC findings reveal no difference in the lower-tier ratings for teachers who teach in subjects with value-added results (currently reading and math). Here, too, 90 percent of teachers are rated in the top two tiers, although the ratio of “skilled” to “accomplished” is greater than for those teacher who teach none or fewer value-added subjects. That said, nine of ten Ohio teachers fared just fine under the state’s new system of evaluation.
The OTES finding should have policy ramifications on the 10 percent. For example, Ohio currently allows teachers rated “developing” to be rated as such in perpetuity. State law should impose time limits if the developing teachers do not develop into effective teachers over a reasonable period of time. The 1 percent of teachers deemed “ineffective” should be ushered out of the profession more rapidly.
Hopefully, fear of (and fear mongering about) the new Ohio teacher evaluation system will subside and we will be able to refocus on its original intent: to annually evaluate, in multiple ways, a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom. OTES is a tool that can help school districts refine their supports and interventions for their faculty with an emphasis on continuous improvement. OTES should now be embraced as a vehicle for ensuring a quality teacher in every Ohio classroom.