“Race to the Top” Initiatives Protect Principal, Teacher and Superintendent Evaluations from Disclosure Under FOIA
On January 15, 2010, the Governor signed into law the Performance Evaluation Reform Act, Public Act 096-0861, which became effective immediately. The Reform Act makes significant changes to the Illinois School Code in an effort to implement the Illinois State Board of Education’s (ISBE’s) “Race to the Top” initiative regarding performance evaluations. Most notably, the Reform Act significantly amends Article 24A of the School Code, which governs performance evaluations for certified staff. The Reform Act requires, among other things, significant changes in teacher evaluation plans, including use of a new evaluation rating system and the requirement that school districts incorporate data and indicators on student performance as a significant factor in teacher and principal evaluations. The Reform Act also extended the time to complete principal evaluations from February 1 to March 1 each year, beginning this year, for school districts with fewer than 500,000 inhabitants, and to July 1 each year for school districts with more than 500,000 inhabitants. The Reform Act changes certain aspects of the relationship between ISBE and school districts with respect to teacher and principal evaluations. Finally, the Reform Act exempts teacher, principal and superintendent evaluations from disclosure under the recently amended Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which went into effect only two weeks before the Governor signed the Reform Act.
Teacher and Principal Evaluations
The Reform Act makes a number of substantive changes regarding teacher and principal evaluations, such as requiring that teachers and principals be rated as “excellent”, “proficient”, “needs improvement” or “unsatisfactory” by September 1, 2012. The Reform Act also requires evaluations to occur in certain frequencies (at least once a year for non-tenured teachers and principals; at least once in the year after a tenured teacher receives a “needs improvement” or “unsatisfactory” rating; and at least once every two years for all other tenured teachers).
The Reform Act also extends by one month the deadline for districts to perform evaluations of school principals. Under the Reform Act, principals in school districts with fewer than 500,000 inhabitants on single-year contracts must be evaluated by March 1 of each year, and principals in such school districts on multi-year contracts must be evaluated by March 1 of the final year of the contract. In school districts with 500,000 or more inhabitants, principal evaluations must be completed for all principals employed under an employment contract by July 1 of each year. Previously, the deadline for principal evaluations was February 1. The amendment improves what had been a difficult situation for districts working to meet the February 1 deadline.
Contact with ISBE
The Reform Act changes certain aspects of the relationship between school districts and ISBE with respect to teacher and principal evaluations. First, the Reform Act prohibits school districts from seeking to waive or modify their duty to comply with the Reform Act’s new rating system for teachers and principals, or the Reform Act’s new requirements regarding the use of student performance data in teacher and principal evaluations. Second, the Reform Act requires that school district’s submit teacher and principal performance evaluation data and information to ISBE.
Disclosure of Performance Evaluations Under FOIA
The Reform Act also amends the School Code to prohibit the disclosure of performance evaluations of teachers, principals and superintendents. Because the recently amended FOIA prohibits disclosure of information specifically prohibited from disclosure by State law, 5 ILCS 140/7(1)(a), the effect of the Reform Act is to decisively exempt performance evaluations of teachers, principals and superintendents under the amended FOIA. It does not, however, prohibit the release of evaluations of other administrative staff.
We will continue to monitor legislation coming out of this General Session that affects school districts, and particularly important changes to the requirements for school districts under Race to the Top and the amended FOIA. Those seeking more information on the amended FOIA are encouraged to purchase Franczek packet of FOIA documents, available here which includes a policy, procedures and an extensive FAQ that is updated with new information as it becomes available.