Researchers studying Indiana methods for evaluating teacher performance say districts should develop clearer and more consistent reviews.
As part of an ongoing project to help schools meet a state law that changed teacher evaluations in Indiana, a research group spent the last four years studying how districts measure and deliver feedback to their teachers. The group is based at the Center on Education and Lifelong Learning at Indiana University and led by researches Hardy Murphy and Sandi Cole.
In a new report, they recommend the law be changed to focus on new teachers and separate teacher pay from evaluations. They also recommend lawmakers tweak the formula to take student poverty into consideration.
“When you look at different teacher ratings, there seems to be a strong association there with the percentage of students on free- and reduced-lunch in classrooms,” Murphy says.
Murphy says, more than any other factor, larger numbers of students on free- and reduced-lunch correlates with lower teacher evaluations.
That’s largely due to test scores. Right now, Indiana teachers are often evaluated on students’ raw scores, not student growth over the past year. Students living in poverty often score lower on tests, for a variety of reasons. That impacts teacher’s ratings.
The researchers also say the mindset around teacher evaluations needs to change. It is most effective when used as a tool for educator improvement, rather than a vehicle for removing ineffective teachers.
“Teacher evaluation systems have to support teachers,” Cole says. “If it’s a ‘gotcha’ system where all we do is penalize teachers, or we don’t do teacher evaluation well, then, in fact, the goal is not reached.”
But legislators behind Indiana’s teacher evaluation law don’t necessarily agree.
“We thought we had a certain group of teachers that were not being effective teachers,” Sen. Dennis Kruse, chairman of the state Senate committee on education, told us in September about creating the law. “We wanted a more rigorous system than we had.”
His goal? Find and weed out bad teachers. The current law bars teachers rated ineffective or in need of improvement from receiving any raise the following year.
The researchers also say the criteria for Teacher Performance Grants should be changed to account for student growth on tests between years, not just their performance. Currently, like the ratings, the amount of money teachers will receive based on their performance varies significantly based on where they work.
As a result, much of the $40 million in teacher bonuses the state is required to hand out will head to Indiana’s wealthiest districts.
The new report also finds fault with the ambiguity in the 2013 law. Indiana districts have interpreted it in a variety of ways.
“There is tension between local control and standardization in district compliance with legislation and policy, and in plan development and implementation,” the researchers write.
They call for guardrails to allow schools the flexibility to rate teachers based on a local criteria, but with measures in place to ensure teacher evaluations support teachers using valid and research-based methods.
The researchers say that since the 2013 law took effect, the evaluation experiences of teachers have improved, but inconsistencies between districts leave “considerable room for improvement.”
“How the plans have been developed and how the plans are being implemented results in varied experiences for teachers around teacher evaluations,” says Cole, the researcher. “When we say ‘guardrails,’ we mean ways to ensure that no matter where I teach in the state of Indiana, my [evaluation] is as good as someone in the neighboring district.”
A bill, authored by Republican Sen. Jon Ford, will address the teacher evaluation law this session.