Lawmakers vote to change Ohio’s teacher evaluation system, tests

The Ohio House on Wednesday approved a major school deregulation bill by a 60-33 vote, changing Ohio’s Teacher Evaluation System, allowing schools to go back to paper and pencil state tests for third-graders, and giving more flexibility on teacher licensure requirements, among dozens of changes.

A version of Substitute Senate Bill 216 has already passed the Senate, but the legislation was amended in the House, and some provisions will have to be reconciled before it can become law.

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The House-passed bill added some “safe harbor” protections for charter schools and school districts that are taking in a large number of students from the closed ECOT online charter school. For two years, those students’ performance wouldn’t count against a charter school’s sponsor evaluation and wouldn’t cause a school district to be labeled a “challenged district” where new charter schools can open.

The House also took out a provision that would have required middle- and higher-income families to share textbook costs for the College Credit Plus program. Those costs are currently covered by the schools.

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Teacher licensure was a key area of the bill, allowing schools to temporarily employ a licensed teacher to teach a subject or grade level for which they are not licensed. It also creates new license systems for career tech educators and substitute teachers, and provides more flexibility in how subs can be used. It repeals requirements that teachers of core subject areas be designated as “highly qualified,” and ends a requirement that core-subject teachers with low evaluations or poor school ratings take exams to prove their knowledge.

“A lot of what we liked about House Bill 216 is still there, particularly the changes to the teacher evaluation system, and some additional flexibility for employment of teachers for smaller and more rural districts,” said Tom Ash, Director of Governmental Relations for the Buckeye Association of School Administrators. “Those schools are starting to experience shortages of teachers in many subject areas, and this is going to give them more flexibility.”

The Ohio Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, supported the teacher evaluation changes, but said last month it opposed the overall package, largely over concerns about making teacher licensure less strict.

According to Ohio’s Legislative Service Commission, other elements of the bill include:

Changes to teacher evaluations

Changes teacher evaluations based on recommendations of the state’s Educator Standards Board effective in 2020, while eliminating the 50 percent focus on student academic growth, as well as the measures for “student learning objectives” and “shared attribution.”

Testing changes

Permits schools to give third-graders their state tests either online or on paper. A previous version of the bill would have allowed that for fourth- and fifth-graders as well. Requires the state to request from test vendors an explanation of how state test questions are aligned to content standards.

Tenure for nonteaching employees

Most nonteaching school employees would not be eligible for tenure until 6-7 years, rather than 2-3 years. Requires a review of the state’s kindergarten readiness assessment, and tweaks requirements for reading improvement plans for young students. Specifies that the rules on “excessively absent” students should stop including excused absences.