(This is one of six stories on the release of teacher evaluation data. For links to all the stories go here.)
To some in Indiana, the high concentration of top educator ratings in the first year of a new evaluation system is perfectly reasonable.
“The data seems to be accurate to what I’ve always thought,” said Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association. “If anything, I thought there would be more highly effective teachers.”
But to others, including those who helped overhaul the state’s evaluation rules, the high scores are implausible given the performance of the state’s schools. Those leaders are scratching their heads — and weighing changes to the law.
“I find it hard to believe we wouldn’t see a different distribution of effectiveness ratings,” said Indiana State Board of Education member Brad Oliver.
Nearly all rated educators — 97 percent — were classified in the top two categories as effective or highly effective, which isn’t exactly what state education officials had in mind when they overhauled the state’s evaluation rules last year, with the expectation that it would be harder for teachers to win top ratings.
The overhaul made Indiana one of a growing number of states, now more than 35, to institute laws requiring more stringent reviews of educator performance that consider student test scores.
Now, the first round of ratings under the new system has some leaders already weighing changes to the law.
Unlike other states, Indiana gives local school districts tremendous flexibility to develop their own systems to judge performance. While districts must ultimately assign each educator a 1 to 4 rating, how they get there varies widely. For example, while state law says student test core gains should be a “significant” factor in an educator’s rating, districts get to decide just how much test scores count.
After the first round of ratings, one legislator who helped craft the law already is reconsidering some of that latitude.
Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, who helped write the law as chair of the House Education Committee, said the overwhelmingly high scores prove that it’s not working as intended.
“We may have let there be too much local control,” he said. “There’s obviously too much subjectivity.”
Behning is already thinking about legislative fixes, including going back to an idea that was discarded when the law was written — requiring a specific percentage of an educator’s evaluation to be based on student test score gains.
While other states require as much as 50 percent of an educator’s rating to be based on student test score growth, most Indiana districts appeared to factor in test scores more in a range of 15 to 20 percent, Behning said.
But Meredith said the data needs a closer look before anyone begins talking about requiring more testing as part of the ratings. The law just might be having the desired effect of removing poor performing teachers, she said.
Meredith noted the large percentage of educators who were listed as not rated statewide: 10 percent. She wondered if an explanation for the low numbers of ineffective educators was hidden in that number.
There are a variety of reasons why an educator was not rated, such as not completing the year due to maternity leave or retirement. But one possibility Meredith noted was that some teachers retired early or left the profession because they feared an ineffective rating.
“I think that says the ones who should be weeded out are perhaps weeding themselves out,” she said. “Those are hard conversations. If they are not doing their job and serving our students we need to be moving them out.”
Behning also wanted to know more about those who weren’t rated before contemplating too many changes to the system.
“We may want to drill down into the data more first,” he said.
Separate from the issue of those in each district who were not rated was another group of educators missing from the data. Almost a quarter of Indiana school districts, 67 of them, did not report any evaluation scores.
The 2011 law allowed districts to work with their local unions to change their evaluation systems as their contracts expired. Those districts’ last contracts signed before the law changed are still in effect, so they have not yet finished creating new systems.
Charter schools were not required to report teacher evaluation scores under the 2011 law, but House Bill 1388, just signed into law last month, will require them to do so in the future.
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.
As those districts come on, and districts get more experience with the system, the state should get a better sense of how it can help them make the most of it.
I believe we made a good step forward,” Oliver said. “It might be good to look at how we provide good guidance.”