Indiana Education Leaders Dismayed by Evaluation Stagnation


What was supposed to be a rigorous new system of evaluating teachers in Indiana, after two years, seems to be evaluating teachers in the same way. Almost no educators were rated "ineffective", and nearly all were said to be doing their jobs effectively.

During the 2013-2014 school year, less than 0.5% were rated "ineffective", a ranking which would have put those teachers at risk of being fired. The data were posted on the Indiana Department of Education website prior to a presentation last week at the Indiana State Board of Education meeting.

Scott Elliot and Shaina Cavazos of The Indianapolis Star write that about 2% of Indiana teachers were rated "improvement necessary". The percentage of teachers who received the highest rating, "highly effective", dropped from 35% to 26%, but nearly all who dropped received the "effective" rating.

This semi-stagnation of ratings could lead to the State Board of Education requiring districts to count student test scores as a larger factor in determining teacher performance. In the past, teacher evaluation sometimes came as infrequently as every three years, were sometimes based on a single visit by the principal, often did not affect teacher raises, and teachers were not fired for poor performance.

The new system includes several observations and uses trained evaluators who report strengths and weaknesses on a wide range of skills. The data for 2013-2014 included more school districts and charter schools.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz would like to see districts have more flexibility in devising their own evaluation systems, including the decision on how to factor in student test scores. Under Ritz's predecessor, before the change in state law in 2011, evaluation results were similar to the current evaluations, when 99% of educators were rated "effective".

Claire Fiddian-Green, co-director of Gov. Mike Pence's Center for Education and Career Innovation, says that the board will soon share best practices and new guidelines to improve the system. Fiddian-Green stated that 4% of Indiana schools received F ratings last year, but less than 1% of teachers rated "ineffective".

"It would be too far for me to say that there was a question of the validity of the data," Fiddian-Green said. "I think it's more that this is a new system and we're working out the kinks.

At a meeting sponsored by Chalkbeat, Indiana University, WFYI, Teach Plus, and the Indianapolis Public Library, attendees heard from Gerardo Gonzalez, Indiana University's education dean, Chalkbeat CEO Elizabeth Green, two classroom teachers, and an Indiana University education student, as they discussed the state of teaching in today's classrooms. Chalkboard's Shaina Cavazos reported that Gonzalez believed that holding teacher training programs at fault for how many graduates get jobs within a year of graduating, teachers' evaluations in their first years in the classroom, or student test score improvement, is not fair.

"Policy makers today want hard and fast answers," Gonzalez said. "And it just doesn't work like that in social sciences."

Green said her research showed that teachers require specialized instruction and skill in order to unravel mistakes that can cause students to take wrong turns. Gonzalez added that many of the brightest and best are lured away by better paying professions. One of the aspiring teachers on the panel said she was encouraged not to become a teacher. The experienced teachers explained how difficult it was to find time to teach and also prepare for frequent testing.

"I think that in this country, we have taken too much for granted about teachers," he said. "I think there are people who believe that if you just know your subject … that you can stand up in front of a classroom and teach it. We know that simply isn't true,"said Dean Gonzalez.

In a brief released by the IU Center for Education and Lifelong Learning, published in the Indiana Daily Student and written by Lindsay Moore, a survey sponsored by lawmakers was cited. According to the survey, superintendents were more likely to believe that teacher evaluations are beneficial than were teachers and principals. Hardy Murphy , IU research scholar said:

"How superintendents, principals and teachers feel about the transformation of teacher evaluation can provide insights into the development of policy and guidance in the implementation of the legislation requiring changes in the evaluation of teachers."

The brief recommends a review of methodology, use, and weights for student growth as applied to the evaluation system.

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