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State ed officials backing off teacher, principal evaulation process

By Bob Mercer

Capitol Correspondent

PIERRE — The state Board of Education received news Monday that some members didn’t like.

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Top officials from the state Department of Education want to change direction on the system they use for measuring performance of South Dakota’s public schools.

They said they don’t want to use teacher and principal evaluations after all. They don’t want to use school climate, either.

That is a reversal.

Last year, the state board adopted the new system, known as the school-performance index, as requested by the department.

Evaluations and school climate were two of the measurements. They were supposed to be used starting in the 2014-15 academic year.

The other measurements — attendance, high school completion, student achievement, student academic growth and college and career readiness — took effect this year or come on line in 2014-2015.

The new system was developed in response to a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education. Under the waiver, South Dakota didn’t need to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind law but needed to meet other USDOE requirements instead.

South Dakota now is preparing to apply for a second year of the federal waiver and state officials said Monday they want to propose a variety of changes.

Education Secretary Melody Schopp said school districts are still learning how to conduct the teacher and principal evaluations.

She said the evaluations will be required but the information will be used to help steer professional growth rather than punish schools.

In effect, Schopp said, there will be an index for student performance, on which schools will get scores, and a separate index for teacher and principal effectiveness that won’t be part of the scoring system.

“We really believe this is the right thing to do, to separate them,” Schopp said.

The department won’t receive individual evaluations and instead will get a school’s evaluation information in aggregate.

Don Kirkegaard, the state board’s president, told Schopp she needs to let school districts know “yesterday” if the department is backing off on evaluations.

School districts’ personnel are working hard on the evaluation processes, according to Kirkegaard. He is superintendent of the Meade School District headquartered at Sturgis.