Outside group calls for audit of teacher evaluation programs

An outside education group is asking the Department of Education to conduct an audit of each school district’s teacher evaluation plan.

Stand for Children Indiana, a group that advocates for Common Core and other progressive education issues, says the teacher evaluations conducted last year were inconsistent and that some districts failed to conduct annual evaluations of all certified educators.

That would include an assessment of anyone working for the school district that needs a license to do his or her job — including teachers, counselors, administrators and others.

“At a time when Indiana is already facing scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Education, it’s important for state leaders to make sure the existing teacher evaluation law is being implemented properly and followed to the letter,” said Justin Ohlemiller, executive director of Stand for Children Indiana.

The group worked with Bellwether Education Partners to study the evaluation models in six districts but is calling on the Department of Education to do a statewide audit. The Stand for Children evaluation found:

— Several instances where the district-developed evaluation models did not comply with the the state law’s requirements;

— Districts used their flexibility to lessen the rigor of evaluations;

— Modification to the state’s sample evaluation model lessen the impact of the objective student data components, which the group says are key to Indiana maintaining its No Child Left Behind waiver agreement with the federal government.

The evaluation data is the product of a 2011 law passed by the Indiana General Assembly requiring public school districts to establish a system to review their licensed educators.

Statewide, schools rated 26.4 percent of educators as highly effective, 61.2 percent effective, 2 percent as needing improvement and 0.39 percent ineffective. About 10 percent were not evaluated. Schools with A and B grades had more educators rated highly while those with Cs, Ds and Fs rated more teachers as needing improvement and ineffective.

But even schools with F grades rated less than 1 percent of their educators as ineffective.

House Education Chairman Bob Behning, the Indianapolis Republican who authored the law, said he’s not sure the system produced enough lower ratings to be realistic.

“When we put that language together originally we thought there is no way you could be a C, D, or F schools and have teacher receive highly effective rankings,” Behning said.

The law didn’t mandate a specific evaluation system but does require student test results to play a “significant” role in determining the ratings. Classroom observations and school performance can be other factors.

Behning said the definition of “significant” can cause inconsistencies because there is no set percentage.

But, Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said she thinks the law is “pretty clear.”

Under current state law, districts must develop or adopt performance evaluation systems. A school corporation could adopt the state’s model plan, RISE, the system for Teacher and Student Advancement, or TAP, or the Peer Assistance and Review Teacher Evaluation. Districts with existing teacher contracts – signed prior to the legislation – don’t have to do the evaluations until after those contracts expire.

“If we’re not consistent across the state the value of the evaluation is not as significant,” Behning said.  “There is not a consistent in terms of weighting.

However, the DOE supports local control.

“Superintendent Glenda Ritz continues to believe that local schools need flexibility to design their own evaluation systems, within the confines of state law,” said a statement from the Department of Education. “This does not lessen the use of objective data. Rather, it gives local schools much needed flexibility.”

Meredith said Behning and Stand for Children Indiana are trying to “point fingers” and blame Ritz, but there is nothing to blame her for.

“I think their data is muddy,” Meredith said.

Stand for Children looked at the evaluation models in Alexandria Community Schools, Brown County School Corp., Fort Wayne Community Schools, Northwest Allen County Schools, South Bend Community School Corp. and South Central Community School Corp. While the South Central district submitted an evaluation plan, it was not required under Indiana law to implement it in 2012-2013.

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