Ohio is beginning to change the way it identifies which public school teachers are very good, which ones need help to improve and which ones are simply bad. The new evaluation system, which will measure teachers’ performance and how much their students learn, will factor into compensation and decisions on promotions and tenure. On the basis of evaluations, teachers will be assigned to one of four performance levels, Accomplished, Skilled, Developing and Ineffective.
There is little dispute that schools need a better system of identifying and weeding out ineffective teachers. Administrators and teachers readily admit that the way things are, the majority of teachers receive glowing evaluations, whether or not they are effective. High-performing teachers who make the most difference in students’ learning rarely are rewarded adequately.
Thus the question is not why to change the method of assessing teachers but how to do so in a manner that is transparently fair and accurate and commands the confidence of teachers. In that regard, it is heartening that the Akron Public Schools and the Akron Education Association, the teachers union, have set aside their differences and have been working in close collaboration to develop evaluation policies for a new contract.
Still, the transition to a new system is fraught with difficulties. Teachers bring different strengths (passion, depth of knowledge and teaching skills, for instance) that are more or less measurable. Other factors have a large impact on learning yet fall outside the control of teachers and schools, such as a student’s living conditions and experiences. With individual careers and the future of students on the line, a valid concern is that in trying to balance multiple factors, legislators are creating policies that unduly complicate the process.
For instance, legislators have gone back and forth on whether student performance should count for 50 percent or 35 percent of the evaluation or whether a student with 60 days or 45 days or 30 days of excused and unexcused absences should be excluded from the evaluations. State Sen. Tom Sawyer, an Akron Democrat, rightly upbraids his legislative colleagues throwing major policies into budget legislation at the last minute “without any serious policy review.”
Research indicates that two of the most important contributors to learning in the school setting are the leadership qualities of the building principal and having an effective teacher in the classroom. It would seem that a most effective (and less contentious) path to accurate evaluations would be to train principals in rigorous assessment of the performance of the teachers they supervise.