UPDATE: Experts question some Indiana teacher evaluations

Education policy experts called results from the first Indiana teacher evaluations that rank only 2 percent of educators as needing improvement "unrealistic."

The data — released Monday by the state Department of Education — is leading some to question whether the current system of evaluating educators, which varies between districts, is effective if so few teachers were rated poorly, even in schools with a D or F rating.

About 88 percent of teachers and administrators were rated as either effective or highly effective in the 2012-2013 evaluations. Only about 2 percent reported needing improvement, and less than a half of a percent were deemed ineffective.

About 10 percent of educators were exempt, some because their districts have not reopened teacher contracts since the law was passed.

Legislation passed in 2011 mandated each district conduct an annual review for all teachers and administrators. Only teachers in the higher two brackets are eligible for salary increases.

Department spokesman Daniel Altman said "the numbers are the numbers," but some policy experts cautioned that the results might not accurately reflect how the state's educators are performing.

For example, no educators at Northern Indiana's F-rated Chamberlain Elementary School in Goshen were ranked below effective, and only one at D-rated Chandler Elementary School was reported as needing improvement.

"We didn't think it was possible for a D or F school to say all teachers are effective or highly effective," State House Education Committee Chairman Bob Behning said. "We thought (the school ratings) would keep schools somewhat a little more honest."

Educators in some school districts were uniformly rated as "effective."

Only one person was ranked "ineffective" from North Lawrence Community Schools in Central Indiana, and every other educator was given a higher "effective" rating.

But even at high-performing schools, Indiana Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Education and Workforce Development Policy Derek Redelman said, there should be at least a few teachers who need to step it up.

"I'm not sure that there's any industry or business setting or any work setting of any kind where you have 100 percent of workers not needing improvement," Redelman said. "That just seems unrealistic."

It's likely also unrealistic that some schools didn't rank any teachers as "highly effective," he said.

Behning said too much district control in determining the evaluations might have skewed the results.

Districts can choose how to conduct the evaluations so long as a "significant" percentage is based on standardized tests in an effort to eliminate biases. Behning said that might be too vague to get comparable results from each district.

But some school officials argue that no single evaluation system can accurately rank one school against another.

Fort Wayne Community Schools has had an evaluation system in place for several years that includes frequent visits from each school principal, spokeswoman Krista Stockman said. Standardized test scores play a role, but are primarily used to gauge students' progress over time.

Using the same system to compare a large school district such as Fort Wayne's with a small rural school isn't fair, Stockman said.

"There probably isn't one system that will work identically in every school district," she said. "To evaluate 100 teachers in a school year for an entire district — the level of complexity isn't the same as when you're evaluating 2000."

Whether the Indiana Department of Education would support local control of evaluation is unclear. Before her election as superintendent of public instruction, Glenda Ritz spoke openly against tying standardized test scores with teacher evaluations. When asked whether the various methods for evaluation on a district-to-district level provided accurate results this year, Altman, the department spokesman, said "that's a question for the Legislature."

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