By Seth Ogilvie
One education professional is expressing frustration with a State Department of Education audit on teacher evaluations — and the perception that school districts erred in those evaluations.
As first reported by Idaho Education News, in July, Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra received an audit from the consulting group McREL International that said that 99% of the Idaho teacher evaluations they reviewed were incomplete.
But the timeline of the audit and evaluations disproves that assessment, said Rob Winslow, executive director of the Idaho Association of School Administrators.
The McREL audit reviewed teacher evaluations completed in the 2014-15 school year. The legislation implementing the career ladder, which mandates the audits of the evaluations, didn’t go into effect until July 2015, well after those evaluations were completed.
“The release date of this report has caused confusion,” Ybarra wrote in a memo to school districts. “This audit was never intended to be an ‘I gotcha’ of Idaho educators.”
But the news, and its nuance, comes just weeks before the Idaho Legislature convenes its 2017 session, and that could have implications for districts.
“It’s a mess now (for) PR, image,” Winslow said. “I think it is damaging. We’re trying to get $58 million for teachers, and this just erodes that confidence. ”
The report states: “Of particular importance was information associated with the use of the Charlotte Danielson Framework.” (Read the full report on the Idaho Education News website.)
The Danielson group website explains that framework as “a research-based set of components of instruction, aligned to the INTASC standards, and grounded in a constructivist view of learning and teaching.”
The problem: School districts in Idaho create their own evaluation systems. They follow the rules and statute created by the state and then submit those plans to state education department.
The code doesn’t require the direct adoption of the Danielson teacher evaluation framework, but that is what McREL evaluated. “Only 1% of the districts are similar to the original model.” Winslow said “Who cares? You didn’t have to be.”
Those evaluation plans vary: Some have three ratings. Some have four. Some are very close to the Danielson teacher evaluation framework, but many aren’t.
“You want to see an audit based on what they should be doing, not on something they shouldn’t be doing,” Winslow said. “So the way they hired them to do the audit, in my opinion, the way they set up the audit, was in a way to ensure the districts would be out of compliance. They got the result they were looking for.”
“It’s irresponsible to pay someone $100,000 or whatever they paid them,” and then not show anyone the audit, Winslow added.
According to Jeff Church, communications director for the State Department of Education, McREL received $112,291 for the audit.
Church said the audit was required by House Bill 296, the 2015 legislation that set up the career ladder. The language in the legislation does instruct an annual audit of teaching evaluations on randomly selected school districts.
The audit “was intended to provide clarity during the roll out of the Career Ladder,” Ybarra wrote in a memo to school districts.
So why evaluate the districts on the Danielson framework? That direction came from July 2015 recommendations from the Professional Evaluation Review Committee. The committee, made of 14 education professionals from throughout the state, said the framework “is resource intensive — hence one reason it is recognized as a valuable tool for professional growth and can be used for personnel reasons.” Those recommendations came from the committee came after the 2014-15 school year ended — the year McREL audited.
Winslow still questions why the audit was done in this way. Beyond the optics and the public relations issues, Winslow doesn’t think districts or the state will learn much from the report.
“I think the last thing (Ybarra) was trying to do was hurt districts,” Winslow said. “That’s not in her profile.”
But, he said, the state needs to get its auditing process right so it accurately reflects the process, adding he fears Ybarra “just hurt the profession.”
“Please don’t screw this up,” Winslow said. “We get many more of these, the whole career ladder starts to get questionable.”
Melissa Davlin contributed to this report.