The state's new teacher evaluation system may be the largest unfunded mandate the Reynoldsburg school district has ever faced when it comes to time commitment.

The state's new teacher evaluation system may be the largest unfunded mandate the Reynoldsburg school district has ever faced when it comes to time commitment.

That's the word from Kathy Jenney, executive director of human resources for the school district.

Jenney said districts were required to begin implementing the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES) this school year.

"The really positive thing about OTES is that it really creates strong conversations about what is good teaching and how we measure student growth," she said. "But I've been in this business a long time and this is the largest unfunded mandate we have been faced with."

Jenney said OTES requirements state that 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation will consist of classroom observation and the other 50 percent will involve student growth measures.

She said the Upper Arlington district is following the state model for the evaluations, which include a preconference with the teachers, two 30-minute classroom observations, a post-conference and three unannounced walk-throughs. That model puts a huge burden on building principals, she said.

"If you consider just the high school principal who will have 39 teacher evaluations that take up a minimum of seven hours per teacher, then you can see how time-consuming this system is," she said. "The principals already have hugely demanding jobs."

Each teacher is given one of four ratings under the system: accomplished, skilled, developing or ineffective.

Under the current law, only teachers rated accomplished can then be evaluated every other year.

District principals are diligently carrying out the requirements, but Jenney said the extra hours have to be squeezed into principals' schedules, which may end up being "overwhelming."

"Our principals are conscientious and want to make sure the evaluation process is meaningful for the teacher," she said. "I had one principal say that even if he is ill, he will come to school before he misses an observation."

She said principals are wondering how to find the time to work with teachers who are rated developing or ineffective.

State Sen. Randy Gardner, a Bowling Green Republican, is trying to solve some of the time crunch, at least in succeeding years.

He recently proposed Senate Bill 229 to ease some of OTES regulations. The bill passed in the Senate and is headed for consideration by the Ohio House of Representatives.

It would allow teachers who are rated "accomplished" and "skilled" to receive formal evaluations every three years instead of every year. It would also change the student growth requirement to 35 percent instead of 50 percent of the evaluation.

Gardner said the current law leaves little time for intervention efforts.

"So much time was being spent on evaluations that it left less time to actually work with teachers to improve what they do in the classroom," he said.

Jenney said the new evaluations could improve classroom performance if principals and teachers "can balance the time and stress level involved."

"Our administrators have been through the state training and are all cross-checking with each other," she said. "On a positive note, I am hearing from teachers that even though the system seems cumbersome and is time-consuming, it is making teachers think more about student growth and achievement and how to get students where they should be academically.