Eleven weeks after the Indianapolis Public Schools agreed to give teachers a dramatic raise—the first in five years for many of them—the teachers are still waiting.
Some of them are wondering, what’s the hang up?
Not only were they supposed to have their raises by now, they also should have gotten back pay going all the way back to July.
That money owed them could be the equivalent of a nice holiday bonus, but the cash is tangled up in a state debate about what to do about a long delay in releasing ISTEP scores.
“I hope (teachers) understand that we’re just as frustrated as they are,” said IPS talent officer Mindy Schlegel. “We were so excited about the new collective bargaining agreement and our ability to significantly increase base pay.”
IPS and its teachers union negotiated a groundbreaking contract calling for a 12 percent jump in pay for first-year teachers and a 10 percent hike for those in mid-career. The deal also includes stipends of up to $18,300 for teachers who take on leadership roles.
The IPS board voted 6-0 to approve the raises Aug. 27, retroactive to July.
But the raises are on hold for a simple reason: they hinge on teacher evaluations.
To qualify for a raise—under state law and the contract— teachers must earn high ratings on evaluations. Those evaluations, in turn, rely in part on standardized test scores. Those scores were originally expected in September. But since ISTEP scores are still not out, IPS hasn’t been able to give the promised raises.
It’s not yet clear how much longer the wait will last. The Indiana Department of Education referred to a timeline spelled out in the September Indiana State Board of Education meeting that said ISTEP growth data for teachers would be complete in mid-December and A to F scores for schools set in late January.
The leaves open the question of whether school districts can calculate teacher ratings before the end of the year. If they aren’t done before Jan. 1, that could mean pay raises won’t show up until late January or February.
But a recent push to exempt teachers from penalties for this year’s scores got a boost Wednesday when a state senator urged the legislature to approve that change next week by waiving procedural rules to speed a bill through in one day.
If such a bill were passed that soon, teachers could get their raises much sooner. But so far legislative leaders have not endorsed the bill or its quick timeline.
Although raises are delayed, teachers will be paid all the money they are owed once evaluations are finished, Schlegel said. Their first paycheck after the evaluations are complete will include retroactive pay back to July.
But not every teacher will get a raise.
Teachers who are rated “ineffective” or “needs improvement” are barred from receiving a raise under the contract. In the past, relatively few teachers would be affected by the exclusion because teachers were overwhelmingly likely to receive an “effective” rating.
During the most recent round of evaluations just more than 2 percent of Hoosier teachers were rated below “effective.” In IPS, 3.9 percent received low evaluations.
This year, however, more teachers may receive low ratings.
The new IPS contract anticipates that 15 percent of teachers will not score highly enough on evaluations to earn the raise. One reason why the district believes that more teachers will fall into that category is because they hope assessments of teachers were more rigorous last year, Schlegel said. But it is just a rough estimate without test data.
If more teachers are eligible for raises than expected, the district will tap its cash reserves to pay for the raises. If more than 15 percent don’t qualify for raises, the surplus will be split among educators who are rated effective or above.
Many more teachers may also receive less credit for helping students improve because student scores on the new, more challenging ISTEP tests are expected to drop.
Student ISTEP scores are a key factor used to calculate both school A-F grades and student growth data. How much student test scores grow over the prior year can play a big role in IPS teacher evaluations. One reason the district relies on those measures is because Indiana law requires districts to use state test scores to “significantly inform” teacher effectiveness ratings. But it lets districts determine exactly how that works.
As it stands now, IPS can do little more than wait for the state to release the data that it uses for teacher evaluations.
“Everyone I talk to at the district level in all districts around the state are just as frustrated,” Schlegel said. “If you’re going to require people to use the data, then you need to deliver it in a timely basis.”
Because state law requires districts to use test scores in evaluations, any break from relying on ISTEP scores must come from the legislature.
For months, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz has been pushing for a “pause” in state accountability sanctions for schools and teachers, warning that lower ISTEP scores resulting from a redesigned exam based on tougher standards could unfairly penalize them.
Pence strongly opposed her proposal, but in a dramatic shift last month, he said in a letter to Ritz that he also thought teachers should not be penalized for drops in test scores.
Kara Brooks, a spokeswoman for Pence, declined to provide details on what legislation the governor is seeking or whether he favored an effort to speed up passing and enacting a law to spare teachers from the consequences of low test scores.
Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, could not be reached for comment. Erin Reese, a spokesperson for House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said that Republicans are discussing the issue but have not yet drafted a bill.
“It’s really too premature to discuss at this point,” Reese said.
Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, chair of the Senate Education Committee, said legislation to relieve teachers from score drops is in the early stages of discussion. He expects that it will be introduced in January and voted on by mid-March or sooner.
“We don’t want to punish a teacher who has no indications by their local principal that they did anything that was worse this year than the year before,” Kruse said.
But Kruse doesn’t anticipate that the legislature will allow districts to completely ignore test data when evaluating teachers.
“I don’t think we will pass a law that eliminates use of ISTEP test results totally for one year,” he said. “I don’t see that happening.”
Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said that teachers should not face any penalties for low test scores.
“This is the first year of a new test under new standards, so we have absolutely nothing to compare them to,” Meredith said. “They’re not good. They’re not bad. They’re just new.”
Chalkbeat Indiana is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.