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Better Late than Never? Joint Statement on Teacher Evaluations Released

Sep 8, 2020

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One area of anticipation going into the new school year was how districts would conduct teacher evaluations in the variety of remote learning scenarios that have played out since ISBE issued its return to school guidance this past summer. The teacher evaluation issue was one of the many that districts sought to address with their unions in facilitating return to school plans over the course of the summer. Well, to the extent there was any remaining doubt as to whether teacher evaluations would be conducted normally this year where there is a remote learning component, that question has been answered in the negative in the joint statement issued by the IASA, IEA, IFT, and IPA August 31, 2020. 

It is important to distinguish the differences between the August 31st joint statement and the March 2020 joint statements issued in conjunction with the Governor’s office and ISBE, which mandated a number of actions including the continued compensation of school district personnel through the Spring period of remote instruction. In contrast, the August 31, 2020, joint statement is fashioned as guidance and issued solely by the two teacher unions and two of the school management associations. The absence of involvement by the executive branch and the regulatory agency tasked with enforcing the School Code is significant. The bottom line is the August 31st joint statement does not constitute a law, administrative rules/regulation, or even guidance from the State. 

While the joint statement is not binding, it certainly provides the unions with the necessary basis to realize their objective of removing the evaluative aspects of the teacher evaluation process and transform it into a formative support tool. 

The joint statement first lays the groundwork for why normal evaluations cannot occur in hybrid or remote instruction including the assertion that evaluators are not trained to evaluate remote instruction; traditional evaluation models are centered around the observation of in-person teacher/student interactions which may not readily occur this school year; teachers and are not trained to perform their respective functions via online instruction, and that it may not be possible to collect sufficient, valid, and reliable data on which to base the classroom practice element of evaluation.

Based on these conclusions, the joint statement recommends that PERA joint committees, or districts and their unions, consider changing teacher evaluation plans. If a teacher is tenured, the guidance recommends providing him/her “with formative feedback for support and development,” while relying on a default option provided under recently passed legislation related to teacher evaluations. Similarly, the guidance recommends relying on a default option provided under the same legislation for non-tenured teachers. 

The default options include 

  • If the Governor has declared a disaster due to a public health emergency, and a tenured teacher’s evaluation is not performed, and that teacher’s most recent evaluation resulted in a performance rating of “Excellent,” then that teacher shall receive an “Excellent” as his/her default rating. 
  • Where a non-tenured teacher’s evaluation is not performed and the Governor has declared a disaster due to a public health emergency, then that teacher shall receive a “Proficient” as his/her default rating. However, this default rating system can be avoided where a school board and the teachers’ exclusive bargaining representative agree, in writing, to an alternative performance rating model. 

The legislation also provides that where a disaster declaration is in place and in-person instruction has been suspended, the timelines for teacher remediation plans will be waived. If a teacher has been on a remediation plan for more than forty-five (45) days of in-person instruction, then his/her remediation plan will continue once in-person instruction resumes. If a teacher has been on a remediation plan for less than forty-five (45) days of in-person instruction, then his/her remediation plan will restart once in-person instruction resumes. 

Beyond referring to the recent legislation, the joint statement also provides that, while formal and informal teacher observations should be conducted during in-person instruction, districts and exclusive bargaining representatives can agree to alternative methods of conducting observations. Furthermore, districts, through discussion with their PERA joint committees, can decide which teachers, “if any” to evaluate during the 2020–2021 school year and how to plan accordingly. 

One School Code tool that remains untouched by the guidance is the right to non-renew probationary teachers as the joint statement acknowledges that a district’s modification to the evaluation of, or inability to evaluate, a probationary teacher does not impede the district’s right to non-renew or dismiss a probationary teacher in accordance with the School Code.

For assistance with interpreting and applying the teacher evaluation guidance to your institution, please contact your Robbins Schwartz attorney.