Indiana guidance on evaluations worries schools

A piece of legislative guidance from the Indiana Department of Education has local districts worrying over whether their local control of teacher evaluations is being stripped away.

The guidance was issued as school districts across the state are in various stages of adopting newly required teacher evaluations that will place educators into four performance categories tied to merit pay: highly effective, effective, needs improvement, and ineffective.

The document notes that IDOE will set "cut levels" that will define which teachers have "negative impact on growth." It goes on to say that teachers with a negative impact cannot be given an effective or highly effective rating.

"Which means I could go in your classroom and watch you and see what you're doing, and I might say you're an effective educator but the state, on whatever metric the state decides, could say you're not," said Karen Combs, director of elementary education for the Lafayette School Corp.

"Then my evaluation doesn't count for you anymore. Those are some concerns."

In 2011, the General Assembly passed a law that requires public districts to put annual teacher evaluations in place by this summer. Some districts are creating their own evaluation systems; others plan to adopt existing ones endorsed by the IDOE.

According to the legislative guidance, the IDOE would form a metric to assign teachers a score of 1 through 4 based on data from the Indiana Growth Model. The Growth Model measures a student's academic growth in relation to peer students in the subjects of English and language arts and mathematics through the ISTEP.

Superintendent Ralph Shrader of the Metropolitan School District of Warren County questioned the meaning of "cut level," fearing the IDOE will be grading teachers on a curve by determining a maximum number of educators that can fall into each performance category.

"The biggest fear we have as a district is despite the fact we're spending 180 days with teachers in classrooms observing them working with their students, is the determination of whether teachers get a raise going to be made by the IDOE?" Shrader said.

Mindy Schlegel, a senior policy adviser for the IDOE, said that is not the case but agreed there has been confusion about the language.

"What we want to be able to do is for that state assessment to give teachers a score of 1, 2, 3 or 4 based on growth in that classroom," Schlegel said. "It's not a curve. There is not a set amount of teachers" in each category.

For example, it would be possible, Schlegel said, that teachers at a school that showed drastic improvement could all receive a 4 rating.

She said the IDOE is in the process of developing the metric that will be used to rate teachers and that metric should be made available Aug. 1.

IDOE spokeswoman Stephanie Sample said the Growth Model measure is only one piece of a teacher's evaluation.

"Because the Growth Model uses ISTEP testing, that is a state assessment, the DOE can measure and create a system to measure what is effective growth," Sample said. "A lot of teachers are confused about that piece."

As far as what negative impact on growth entails, Schlegel said most teachers won't have to worry about falling into that category.

"We're talking about extremes," Schlegel said. "This is not someone who has low growth in the classroom. This is extremely low growth across all students."

Shrader said that alleviates some short-term concerns, but there is still much to be seen as the process moves forward.

"Our concern as a corporation is they're just moving so fast," Shrader said.

"They're trying to work out the bugs as they go and it's hurting schools and educators."

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