Indiana’s teacher evaluation system not working

(Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel

As we have seen with the continuing struggle to replace the hated ISTEP, members of the Indiana education establishment has difficulty with the whole testing concept — what to test, how to test it, what to do with the results.

Now it appears they even have trouble testing the teachers who give the tests. Indiana lawmakers put the a statewide evaluation system in place in 2011 with the goal of raising expectations for teachers to keep improving their performance. It was also supposed to identify teachers in need of improvement or removal from the classroom.

It hasn’t exactly worked out that way.

For the third year in a row, barely any Indiana teachers, principals and superintendents were rated “ineffective,” according to the Chalkbeat education news organization.

Of the 68,386 educators evaluated by the state in 2015, just 260 — 0.38 percent — got the lowest rating, a status that could put educators in the state at risk for being fired. About 88 percent of educators were rated “effective” or “highly effective” in 2015, the top two ratings of four possible options, and 1.47 percent of educators were rated “improvement necessary.”

Before the law passed, Chalkbeat says, the Indiana Department of Education conducted a study of a sample of Indiana school districts that showed just 1 percent of teachers were rated ineffective. Then-state Superintendent Tony Bennett termed that success rate a “statistical impossibility.”

If 1 percent is a “statistical impossibility,” what is 0.38 percent?

One problem with the evaluations is that, because of those infamous ISTEP problems, the General Assembly passed a bill holding teachers harmless if their students’ test scores dropped. Another is that schools have great flexibility to customize their evaluation systems, which has made it difficult to establish a standard expectation for what qualifies as good and bad performance.

It is true, as some critics note, that teacher evaluation scores are just one indicator of what’s happening in classrooms and school buildings. But it is an important indicator, and if officials are going to make them part of the package, they need to get it right. Schools can’t even begin to dice what to do about teachers who are inadequate or need improvement until they know who they are.

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