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State Superintendent Glenda Ritz makes notes before speaking at a Rally to support her last February.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz makes notes before speaking at a Rally to support her last February.

Scott Elliott

Ritz’s teacher panel suggests changes to testing, evaluation and pay

Too much testing, too little pay and insufficient feedback on their teaching are some of the biggest problems educators think Indiana needs to fix if it wants to continue to attract great teachers to the profession.

Those were some of the concerns a panel of 49 educators named by state Superintendent Glenda Ritz raised today in their third meeting. The next challenge is to craft solutions as a set of recommendations for state legislators. The hope is that in early 2016, there would be some state laws that could be modified in ways that would clear barriers that might discourage talented aspiring teachers from entering the classroom.

“There’s no one approach or idea that is going to do the trick,” said Maryann Santos de Barona, Purdue University’s education dean and one of the panel’s leaders. “We need to adopt a coherent systems approach that enables us to strengthen, and in some cases to change or to eliminate, those parts that need attention. And that is going to require effort and movement at every level of the system.”

The way teacher pay raises are handled under a 2011 change in state law was singled out as a problem area. Raises now depend on a four-step performance review. Those rated in the lowest two categories — needs improvement or ineffective — can be barred from receiving a raise. Those at the highest end of the scale — highly effective — can earn bonus pay.

Tony Willis, an English teacher at Cathedral High School, said Indiana’s evaluation and bonus system is in direct conflict with the panel’s top priority — better mentoring.

“There’s no incentive to help other teachers become highly effective because the more teachers who are highly effective, the less the bonus is,” he said.

Matthew Presley, an English teacher at La Porte High School, said it’s hard to stand out, and earn extra, after two years of evaluations that have rated nearly all of Indiana’s teachers at the top of the scale.

“(The bonus) is a one-time deal, and it’s not enough in my estimation,” Presley said. “Everyone is effective or highly effective … the money is being distributed to pretty much everyone.”

But just complaining about the problems of pay and evaluation aren’t enough. The group needs proposals to fix those systems, several panel members said.

“If this is a lemon, then we’ve got to get rid of it,” said John Jacobson, the dean of Ball State University’s teachers college. “But we can’t just say get rid of it if we don’t have a solution.”

Other ideas the group discussed to make teaching more attractive included reduced testing and broader evaluation.

If some tests do double-duty — such as both providing diagnostic information about student skill gaps and serving as an accountability measure — it could mean fewer tests and less time spent away from regular classroom work.

Teachers could also be judged on other examples of how students improve throughout the year, such as on portfolios or projects, with less emphasis on test scores.

Communicating the realities teachers face every day to legislators, who make the final decision about any changes to state law, won’t be easy, said Jon Milleman, assistant superintendent in Washington Township.

“People have five minutes to look at this stuff,” he said. “They’re not going to live it like us.”

The group has two more meeting before the legislative session begins in January.