- Associated Press - Friday, January 6, 2017

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Idaho’s top legislative leaders criticized the Idaho Department of Education for sitting on a highly contentious audit of how the state grades its teachers for six months before it was released through a public records request.

House Speaker Scott Bedke, of Oakley, said Friday that he didn’t know why the education department did not immediately release the report, but added that he has no plans to focus on past mistakes. Instead, he wants to ensure that Idaho has a robust teacher accountability system as required under the so-called career ladder - also known as the multi-year effort to boost teacher salaries.

“The career ladder calls for using the accountability component,” Bedke said at the annual legislative preview hosted by The Associated Press. “If that’s not up and in place, then the career ladder has a problem.”

The state’s teacher evaluation system has come under close scrutiny as next year will be the first year that teacher pay will have a direct tie to their performance. The $250 million five-year plan has some lawmakers, particularly among Idaho’s Republican supermajority wary of funding increases, on edge that they are funneling more money to teachers without a proper way of knowing if the funds are going to the best educators.

According to the department’s audit, nearly all of the selected evaluations were found to be incomplete or inconsistent for the 2014-15 school year. Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra received the audit in July, but her staff didn’t release the report until December after receiving a public records request.

At first, news of the report shocked the educational community and seemed to confirm lawmakers’ worst fears. However, fallout since the audit’s release has quickly turned to questioning the department’s lengthy delay in releasing the report. Meanwhile, school administrators have decried the report as an unfair attack on teachers because, as they argue, the report applied the wrong metrics on judging the state’s teacher evaluation system.

Ybarra has argued that there was no need to publish the report right away. Yet that reasoning didn’t settle with lawmakers on Friday.

House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, of Boise, criticized the department’s handling of the report, adding that he believed they did so because it contained flawed data.

“It probably was an enormous mistake to sit on that data for as long by the department,” Erpelding said.

But in the end, Erpelding said it was important that the Idaho Legislature not “scapegoat teachers” and find a way to continue supporting them.

The 2017 Idaho Legislature begins Jan. 9.

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