Missouri House rejects educator evaluation legislation

Thursday, April 11, 2013 | 10:17 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri House members rejected legislation seeking to make changes to teacher tenure while requiring school districts to develop educator evaluation systems centered on student achievement.

But supporters said Thursday they are not giving up.

"There's got to be a starting point and just because it went down, that doesn't mean this is the end," said Rep. Kevin Elmer, R-Nixa, who sponsored the legislation.

House members defeated the bill 102-55 shortly before midnight Wednesday.

The legislation calls for school districts to implement an evaluation system for teachers and administrators that would be used as the basis for employment decisions. School personnel were to be classified as highly effective, effective, minimally effective or ineffective.

Evaluations would include multiple measures and be conducted at least annually. At least 33 percent of evaluations for many administrators and for those teachers responsible for grades and courses subject to yearly achievement tests would focus on student achievement and growth on such tests. It would include measures to control for pre-existing student characteristics such as prior discipline, attendance and eligibility for free or reduced price lunch.

For school personnel who do not directly instruct students in subjects and grades that are tested, districts could decide how much weight to give to student-achievement growth on the tests.

Among other factors that could have been included in evaluations were classroom observations of teachers and administrators' ability to attract and retain good teachers.

Rep. Mike Lair, a retired educator who represents a northern Missouri legislative district, said many school districts would be "swamped by the amount of bureaucracy in this bill."

"One size does not fit all. This is too much," said Lair, R-Chillicothe.

In addition to evaluations, the House legislation addressed tenure. Teachers would be required to earn four consecutive ratings of effective or highly effective at a district and could lose that status after receiving an infective rating or two consecutive ratings of minimally effective. Teachers could regain tenure with three straight effective or highly effective ratings.

Missouri teachers currently can earn tenure after teaching in a district for five years. With tenure, they can be dismissed for immoral conduct, incompetency, inefficiency or insubordination, willful or persistent violation of the state's school laws or regulations, excessive absences, or conviction of certain felonies. Teachers also can be removed if they have a physical or mental condition that makes them unfit to instruct children. School districts seeking to remove a tenured teacher must provide written charges specifying the grounds for dismissal and offer a hearing.

Mike Wood, a lobbyist for the Missouri State Teachers Association, said the House vote demonstrates lawmakers have been listening to people back home.

"We were very excited to see that kind of support for local control of public education," Wood said.

The Missouri State Board of Education this past year approved a pilot project dealing with evaluations, and the state's waiver for the federal No Child Left Behind law will require districts to have an evaluation process in place within several years.

Lea Crusey, the state director for education advocacy group StudentsFirst, said there is a strong core of lawmakers who support education change. She said there still is time for legislation to pass before the Legislature adjourns May 17.

"Anything can happen in the next five weeks," Crusey said. "And I view a vote as incredibly helpful insight into where legislators' minds are at and what we need to do to better present information and better make the case. So I'm as upbeat as I've been at any point this session on our opportunity to advance this kind of reform this year."

Majority House Republicans have identified education as a priority. The chamber's leaders voiced disappointment during a public leadership meeting Thursday.

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