The phrase "ineffective teacher" has the usual sterile ring of federal law.
But the term has been one of the thornier components of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the replacement for No Child Left Behind. It requires states to identify what it means to be an "ineffective teacher."
Montana punted on the definition in their plan to comply with ESSA that was accepted by federal officials in 2018, saying that they would define the term later.
That chicken is home to roost, but it won't be in the Office of Public Instruction's coop.
The OPI plans to largely redirect the definition to local school districts.
Ineffective teachers would be defined as those who "show a pattern of ineffective practices as determined by a local evaluation."
The agency would also consider a teacher without any kind of license to be "ineffective."
"Montana is a local control state and evaluations are done at the local level, therefore, the OPI does not collect data on local teacher evaluations," the proposal says.
"(Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen) did not want to add to schools' reporting requirements," said OPI spokesman Dylan Klapmeier.
The only feedback OPI received on the proposal, which is slated to be submitted to the Department of Education in May, was a letter opposing the inclusion of local evaluations from the state teachers' union.
"We do not see an appropriate, consistent mechanism by which this evaluation data can be gathered or reported," wrote Montana Federation of Public Employees executive Marco Ferro in a letter that never used the phrase "ineffective teacher."
An April 4 question-and-answer conference call for educators had no callers except for a Billings Gazette reporter.
The state won't create any kind of database of "ineffective teachers," and information won't be included in a required report card for schools. The state is expected to unveil the first round of report cards this spring.
Montana will analyze whether economic or racial disparities exist for students taught by teachers tagged as ineffective. "A description of results" will be posed on OPI's website.
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"Montana will show whether low-income and minority students enrolled in schools receiving funds under Title I, Part A are taught at disproportionate rates by ineffective, out-of-field or inexperienced teachers compared to non-low-income and non-minority students enrolled in schools not receiving these funds," the proposal says.
Inexperienced teachers are defined by the plan as those with less than one year of teaching experience. Out-of-field teachers are those teaching subjects outside of their endorsed area.
Local schools are required by Montana law to develop and administer regular evaluations that include "an assessment of the educator's effectiveness in supporting every student in meeting rigorous learning goals through the performance of the educator's duties."
OPI also has model evaluations districts can use.
Billings Public Schools evaluates non-tenured teachers twice a year and tenured teachers once every three years.
Billings superintendent Greg Upham said he didn't shy away from the concept of an "ineffective teacher."
He hasn't examined the current evaluation, but he said a review of the tool is a priority. The district was poking around an overhaul of the evaluation a couple years ago, but the idea was put on hold. Upham took over this school year.
He said that teachers' most important charge is to establish positive relationships with students, followed by instructional skill.
"You have to have an aligned system to measure that," he said.
Many states' definitions of ineffective teachers have been criticized by groups like the National Council on Teacher Quality, a non-profit that advocates for demanding and sometimes controversial standards.
The role of teacher evaluations has roiled education landscapes in areas like Washington D.C., which adopted a system in 2009 that tied teacher pay and job status to evaluations.
A 2016 study found that the system had positive effects on student achievement.
But in 2018, the district suspended the use of metrics measuring how many students pass classes in the evaluation, citing an investigation that found one-third of 2017 graduates from the district missed too many classes or were inappropriately enrolled in remedial courses — and that teachers felt pressured to pass students that hadn't earned passing grades, according to the Washington Post.
A 2018 study found that evaluations tended to measure not just teacher quality, but that factors beyond their control affected evaluations. For example, teachers with high concentrations of minority students often scored lower.