Rep. Cannaday assails A.G. Pruitt's opinion on teacher evaluation system

To The Editor: 

Recently I requested the Attorney General to issue an opinion regarding the legality of the State Department of Education’s (SDE) implementation of the Oklahoma Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Evaluation System (TLE). In that opinion, the Attorney General’s office did not live up to its obligation to provide non-partisan legal advice.

The opinion is far from neutral, and it seems as if the Attorney General is bending over backwards to appease Supt. Janet Barresi. The opinion contains several glaring logical inconsistencies.

The Attorney General opinion states that the “statute specifies that for the teacher qualitative portion of the TLE System, school districts must use ‘[a]n evidence-based qualitative assessment tool.” This statement is incorrect: the statute requires that the “TLE shall include the following components,” including the evidence-based assessment tool. The statute does not require the districts to implement tools for assessment on an individual basis, it requires the SDE to do so.

By saying that the statute applies to the districts, rather than to the SDE, the Attorney General is making it seem that each district can implement its own tool, selected from several that are approved by the SDE, which is an incorrect reading. The statute does not make this requirement of the districts: it requires the State Board of Education to adopt one system, statewide, to consist of one tool to qualitatively evaluate leaders, and one tool to qualitatively evaluate administrators. I think the Attorney General and Supt. Barresi have paid too much attention to the word “system” and not enough attention to the word “statewide.”

The law requires that one tool be adopted to evaluate teachers, and one tool be adopted to evaluate leaders. By authorizing districts to choose among three different tools to evaluate teachers, and two different tools to evaluate leaders, the SDE is disregarding the requirements of the law. The Attorney General’s opinion stresses that there is a difference between a “framework” and a “system.” Nowhere in the statute do I see the word “framework.” However, I see the word “tool,” used in the singular. The SDE has decided to use multiple “tools.” This is not rocket science.

The Attorney General also contends that the “pilot period” being implemented by the SDE is permissible under the law because school districts have been given until the 2013-2014 school year to implement written policies of evaluation, which are required to be based upon the TLE system. The Attorney General contends that “the language of ‘every policy of evaluation’ contemplates the possible use of more than one evaluation framework…as there is no ambiguity in the statute the plain language controls.”

Another principle that guides courts is that to express one thing is to exclude another. Using this principle, the fact that a 2013-2014 timetable was not given to establish the statewide system, but was expressly granted to the districts to develop their written evaluation systems, indicates that the legislative intent was not to give the SDE that amount of time to adopt its system. The principle works the other way too: the fact that the SDE was given until November 15, 2011 to implement a single, statewide system, indicates that the legislative intent was not to provide a pilot period. The Attorney General is confusing the “written policy of evaluation” that each district is required to develop, with the statewide TLE system. These two requirements are not the same, and the fact that each district must develop written evaluations based on the TLE framework should not be read to indicate that the legislature intended that the SDE adopt multiple “tools” within the TLE. The Attorney general is comparing apples to oranges, contrary to the plain language of the statute. Even Kerri White, the Assistant State Superintendent, Office of Student Support, said in the December 15, 2011 board meeting that the words “pilot” and “default” are not in statute. She said that they are recommendations of the State Department of Education staff.

Districts were granted more time to develop written evaluation policies, which are to be based on the TLE framework. No such time cushion was given to the SDE to develop its statewide evaluation system. There is nothing in the law to indicate authorization for a pilot period.

The SDE was given until December 15, 2011 to adopt a statewide system of evaluation, comprised of one tool to qualitatively evaluate teachers, and one tool to qualitatively evaluate leaders. It failed to fulfill this legal responsibility.

The SDE seems to be inventing the law on the fly, which is consistent with Supt. Barresi’s approach to her job so far.

Ed Cannaday


Note: Rep. Cannaday represents House District 15, including parts of Haskell, Le Flore, McIntosh, Muskogee and Sequoyah counties.

Rep. Ed Cannaday

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