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Study: Indiana's teacher evaluation law helped, but still needs work

Indianapolis Public School is looking for a new system to evaluate teachers.
Indianapolis Public School is looking for a new system to evaluate teachers.
Alan Petersime

A study that asked Indiana education college professors about the state’s controversial 2011 law overhauling teacher evaluation found that most of them thought it was helpful.

The study relied on a small sample — 12 professors at four universities across the state — and focused heavily on specific questions of how teacher training changed as a result of the law. But a majority of those surveyed thought the new system was better for teachers than what existed before.

“I don’t think there was really an established, well-understood procedure for doing (evaluation) …,” one of the survey respondents told the researchers. “The quality of the feedback varied, and the quality of the observation itself varied.”

The report is called “University Faculty Perceptions of Teacher Evaluation Law In Indiana” and was produced by the Indiana University School of Education’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy. The lead authors were Colleen Chesnut and Molly Stewart, research associates at the center, and Anna Sera, a graduate student.

The four universities represented were not named but were described as “license-granting institutions with relatively large numbers of students graduating from their programs.”

“Although the changes to Indiana’s teacher evaluation law did not outline any new requirements for education leadership faculty or curricula, these policies certainly impact faculty members’ work of training school leaders,” Chesnut said in a statement. “We examine education leadership faculty members’ perspectives on the law to broaden the scope of research on this policy and bring some insight into how programs prepare future principals for the complex task of teacher evaluation.”

Indiana was one of more than 35 states that has added new laws in the past five years to require more frequent and more stringent reviews of teacher performance. But the Hoosier state did not follow the lead of other states that required most of a teacher’s evaluation rating to be based on how much their student test scores improve.

Instead, Indiana schools must ensure student test scores “significantly inform” each teacher’s annual evaluation rating but can determine what percentage of the rating is based on those scores.

The law requires each teacher to be rated on a four-point scale. Those in the bottom category can be fired, and those in the bottom two categories can be blocked from receiving pay raises.

Teachers unions, in particular, have strongly opposed basing teacher ratings mostly on student test scores, arguing that observation and other measures are more valid.

So far, the law has not dramatically changed the percentage of teachers rated ineffective. That percentage has never risen above 1 percent of all Indiana teachers.

Even so, nearly all of those surveyed for the Indiana University study said they believed the law could help improve teaching.

Among the good aspects of the law the professors surveyed cited were more time spent by principals on classroom observation and better feedback resulting both from the added time watching teachers work and because the reviews were based on specific criteria that were more objective.

But they also cited concerns, such as increased workload for principals and a lack of principal understanding of how to connect evaluations and student test performance.

“The way the law is written is probably not doable,” one respondent said. “I mean, if you really look at how many teachers you have and how much time is required to do the process well, it’s probably not doable.”

Among the study’s recommendations to improve the law were to better connect teacher evaluation and training and to give teachers more control over the design of the evaluation system at their schools.

Read the study here.

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