While teachers and students were busy celebrating the holidays, the Ohio legislature was moving full steam ahead, putting the final touches on House Bill 555 (HB 555). This “present” was completed during the holiday season, yet it has taken weeks to unwrap and understand the true impact it could have on individual teachers. It is causing, concern, anger and frustration.
The HB 555 legislation sets new guidelines for the use of “Student Learning Objectives,” or SLOs, to measure student growth, which will account for 50% of each teacher’s overall rating in the newly-established Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES).
SLOs are basically goals that teachers want their students to work toward, which will demonstrate student growth over the course of the year. These are not one or two sentence descriptions, but multi-page documents that outline the means of assessment, curricular standards covered and many other categories.
SLOs offer teachers the chance to maintain some of the individuality and autonomy they seek as professionals. SLOs can outline a plan for teachers to get beginning and end-of-the-year data, demonstrating student learning and progress. Many teachers have seen SLOs as an opportunity to break away from the over-reliance on data gathered through standardized tests.
SLOs are not without their problems, however. In my district, a teacher and administrative representative returned from an SLO writing conference and shared an example of what was deemed an excellent SLO. In this example, written for a choir teacher, the growth measurements included “tonal quality and accuracy” and “effort during performances” — completely subjective criteria. The choir teacher would then be responsible for reporting the students’ progress, as it would be nearly impossible for an administrator to evaluate these things without having a choral background. So the obvious question is, why wouldn’t a teacher, who believes wholeheartedly in his/her program, report stellar results and progress for all students? If hard-working teachers across all grades and subjects believe in what they are doing, and are able to create subjectively measured SLOs, they could all report outstanding progress. Wouldn’t that nullify the attempts to use these measures to show which teachers are more effective than others?
Another issue is manpower. If hundreds of teachers are writing SLOs, who in each district will be responsible for evaluating each plan and managing all the data collected? Districts are already strapped for cash and hiring another administrator as an “SLO guru” doesn’t sound like the best way to spend precious money that could benefit students in so many other ways. One suggestion was to have a Building Leadership Team (BLT) at every school, comprised of teachers, to approve SLOs. That may sound good in theory, but how many teachers will want to reject as sub-par SLOs that their colleagues worked on for umpteen hours and that they truly believe are appropriate?
Nevertheless, many teachers tried to get ahead of the legislation by creating their SLOs now, instead of waiting until OTES is fully implemented next year or the year after. However, HB 555 will penalize the teachers who worked proactively, demonstrating professionalism and commitment to their students, for all their hard work. In the last days of the legislative session, when many in the education community were not focused on the dealings in the State House, legislators inserted language in HB 555 that precludes reading and math teachers, grades 4-8, from using those SLOs that they spent countless hours developing. In lieu of the SLOs, standardized test scores must be used to measure student growth. This type of legislative maneuver frustrates teachers and makes it hard for them to buy into education reforms. They fear that their efforts will all be for naught as regulations and programs change without notice.
Why reading and math in grades 4-8?
Simple. The state will have “value added” data for these grade levels, where they do not for all other levels and courses. For reading and math teachers in grades 4-8, the “Student Growth Measures” will be based on the progress students show on standardized tests. Students, no matter what their level of achievement is at the beginning of the year, will have to show a year’s worth of learning when they take standardized tests in the spring — regardless of the external forces that impact each child’s learning and achievement, which have nothing to do with a teacher’s competency.
Another wrinkle in the value added component is that many 4-8 teachers don’t teach strictly math or reading all day. Value added data would factor in for these teachers in proportion to the part of the courses where the data is applicable.
SLOs, OTES, SGM, Value Added…
Who can keep it all straight? And yet, these acronyms represent things that will determine our teacher ratings and potentially our careers.
When it came to determining how to implement these things, as it pertains to HB 555, there was no consultation with teachers. There was no “heads up” about the changes in this legislation. The only growth I can be sure will come from these changes is not student growth, but a growth of disenfranchisement from quality, hard-working teachers, who tried to get ahead of the changes coming in the fall, only to be tripped up by lawmakers. They earn an F in the category of understanding what’s best for Ohio’s students.
By Dan Greenberg, Sylvania Education Association