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Teacher ratings vary widely across districts

Gary's Roosevelt High School. Johnson's eldest daughters graduated from the school before it was taken over by the state in 2012.
Gary's Roosevelt High School. Johnson's eldest daughters graduated from the school before it was taken over by the state in 2012.
Photo by Samuel L. Love via Flickr

(This is one of six stories on the release of teacher evaluation data. For links to all the stories go here.)

Across Indiana last year, just 0.5 percent of educators were rated ineffective and 30 percent were rated highly effective. But those figures — judged by some to be ridiculously out of sync with reality — hardly represent all districts’ educator ratings.

Indeed, the distribution of ratings ranged widely across the state, even within districts. Some districts gave nearly all educators the state’s top rating, while others awarded that honor to no one at all.

The disparities across districts make it difficult to draw any sweeping conclusions about teacher quality in Indiana from the new ratings. Instead, the disparities amplify questions about whether school administrators were all prepared to execute the state’s new evaluation rules, and about whether state law allowed local districts too much latitude in setting their evaluation system.

Districts were allowed to determine just how much test scores should influence teacher ratings. They were also allowed to decide which evaluation system to use, and how much to alter the ones they chose.

The 249 districts that reported data had a wide variety of evaluation systems. Most (71 percent) used the RISE system, created by the Indiana Department of Education under former state Superintendent Tony Bennett, or a modified version of it. About 62 districts created their own evaluation systems. A handful of others used nationally recognized models from outside the state.

It is unclear exactly what caused districts to detect vast differences in their teachers’ quality.

One district — Centerville-Abington near Richmond — gave 93 percent of educators the state’s highest rating. Twenty-three other districts — including South Bend, with 1,435 educators — did not give that rating to a single educator.

Indianapolis Public Schools, the state’s largest district, deemed just five educators ineffective out of 2,672 it rated, for an ineffective rate of less than 0.2 percent.

In contrast, two districts gave the lowest rating to more than 10 teachers. In Indianapolis, Lawrence Township rated 14 educators rated ineffective, representing about 1.4 percent of the district’s staff or three times the ineffective rate statewide.

The wide ranges existed within districts as well as across them, and schools in state takeover were among the toughest graders. Gary’s Roosevelt High School — to which the state given an F grade for seven straight years — gave ineffective ratings to seven educators, or 10 percent of its staff. That was more than any other school in the state — just 12 schools had more than two educators rated ineffective. The school, run independently since 2012 by EdisonLearning under a contract with the Indiana State Board of Education, also rated 22 teachers as in need of improvement, giving them a year to earn a higher score or risk being fired.

The high rate of ineffective teachers at the schools under state takeover raises questions about whether the evaluation rules unfairly penalize teachers with struggling students, as critics feared it might, or whether they allow principals to judge teacher quality more accurately, as lawmakers intended when they wrote the state’s new evaluation rules.

Some of those lawmakers are already considering ways to toughen the evaluation rules after this year’s ratings release, perhaps by increasing the required weight of test scores in evaluations. Increasing the weight of test scores, which are uniform across the state, could make educator ratings more comparable across school district lines, according to Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis.

“It reflects the reason why we have ISTEP [the state testing program],” Behning said, “because everybody’s opinion is a little different in terms of what effective and highly effective means.”

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