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Eye On Boise

State Ed Board hears about flaws in audit of Idaho teacher evaluations

Major flaws in a review that the state Department of Education commissioned of Idaho's teacher evaluation system drew attention from the state Board of Education today, as school district superintendents around the state remained concerned that the audit report unfairly cast doubt on the evaluation system just as lawmakers are going to be asked to spend $58 million next year for the third year of the state's teacher career ladder - which is based in part on teacher evaluations. Here's a full report from AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi:

Teacher evaluation review didn't check for state compliance 

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Officials with the Idaho Department of Education paid more than $112,000 for a review of the state's teacher evaluation system, but did not instruct the outside consulting team to ensure the system was complying with state law.

Currently, state law allows public school districts to build their own model for teacher evaluations as long as they follow state statutes and submit those plans to the Education Department for approval.

Instead of comparing each evaluation to the individual model it was built under, Colorado-based McREL International was instructed by a state advisory committee to compare them all to one specific model — known as the Charlotte Danielson Framework.

As a result, the consulting team found that 99 percent of the selected evaluations were incomplete during the 2014-15 school year, but the consultants also didn't identify which ones were designed under a different model. The group vetted 225 evaluations from 53 school districts.

The report's findings have frustrated school administrators across the state, with many arguing that the state set the consultations to compare apples to oranges and thus inadvertently undermined the trust that schools are properly vetting their teachers.

"The perimeters that they had were the wrong perimeters they needed to work from," said Rob Winslow, executive director of the Idaho Association of School Administrators. "We are not afraid of a fair audit, but this is not it. We need to get this right."

McREL consultants and state officials discussed details of the report during Thursday's Idaho State Board of Education meeting, with several board members downplaying the results of the report.

"I think it's been overblown,” said board president Emma Atchley. "But I think we've learned a lot in the process."

The report was the first of its kind since a 2015 law was enacted requiring the Department of Education to independently assess a sampling of teacher's evaluations each year.

The Education Department had received the review in July, but it wasn't released until Idaho Education News sent a public records request and published the report last week.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra has since defended her department's choice not to release the report sooner, explaining that she was waiting to give a thorough presentation to the state education board — a stance backed by McREL consultants, who also urged that officials properly process the information before jumping to conclusions.

Nothing in the report indicates that the teacher evaluations were falsified, said Tedra Clark, a McREL evaluator.

Meanwhile, the board is preparing to review teacher evaluations for the 2015-16 school year and is expected to release their findings to the 2017 Legislature.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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