98 percent of Iowa's evaluated teachers receive high marks

2013-01-31T16:01:00Z 98 percent of Iowa's evaluated teachers receive high marksMike Wiser The Quad-City Times
January 31, 2013 4:01 pm  • 

DES MOINES — New Iowa Department of Education data released Thursday shows that 98 percent of evaluated teachers receive high marks for their work.

But that high percentage is more a cause for concern than celebration, said Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass, who thinks the number proves there’s something wrong with the teacher evaluation system.

“It’s typical of teacher evaluations in Iowa and across the country in that you see everyone in the very highest categories,” Glass said. “Basically, the story is the current evaluation system we have results in everyone coming out above expectations and very small amounts of our educators are given any amount of critical feedback. That begs the question on should we be improving our evaluations.”

The data came out of the annual Condition of Education report that was released during Thursday’s Iowa State Board of Education meeting. The report is a data-heavy, 286-page package that compiles all sorts of information on the state’s student body, its teaching force and student test scores.

This year was the first time the report included evaluation data for teachers, and it’s limited to the 2010-2011 school year. But the department also is in the midst of evaluating teacher data from the 2011-12 year.

Gov. Terry Branstad made teacher pay and career paths the centerpiece of his education reform proposal this year, and included in the package are changes in the way Iowa handles teacher evaluations. Currently, evaluation criteria can vary from school to school.

The bill allows the Department of Education to determine the standards teachers should be evaluated against, including student performance as a component, and to create a system that could be used to rate teachers as highly effective, effective and not effective.

“I suspect there will be some concern raised about should we vest this authority with the department director,” Glass said. “The reality is somebody has to resolve the ambiguity, somebody has to make a decision.”

Tammy Wawro, president of the Iowa State Education Association, said “it doesn’t surprise me” that 98 percent of teachers met or exceeded standards, which she called “critical” to a teacher’s professional development.

“Any system that you have in place is only as good as the process that you use to utilize it. In theory, there’s an administrator who has the training on how to deliver it,” she said. “Right now, our administrators are so tasked. They don’t have time to do those critical conversations in every case.”

The issue proved divisive earlier this week when a House subcommittee took up the governor’s education reform proposal. Lawmakers lobbed question upon question at department officials who defended the proposed change.

Tom Narak, a lobbyist with the School Administrators of Iowa, said “there might be some inconsistency” in how administrators carry out evaluations, but overall, administrators “do an excellent job” in giving teachers fair and critical evaluations.

“To make a blanket statement that they’re not doing a good job, I wouldn’t agree with that,” he said.

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