Future of Teaching

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

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

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.

Top teacher

Franklin educator is Tennessee’s 2018-19 Teacher of the Year

Melissa Miller leads her students in a learning game at Franklin Elementary School in Franklin Special School District in Williamson County. Miller is Tennessee's 2018-19 Teacher of the Year.

A first-grade teacher in Franklin is Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year.

Melissa Miller

Melissa Miller, who works at Franklin Elementary School, received the 2018-19 honor for excellence in the classroom Thursday evening during a banquet in Nashville.

A teacher for 19 years, she is National Board Certified, serves as a team leader and mentor at her school, and trains her colleagues on curriculum and technology in Franklin’s city school district in Williamson County, just south of Nashville. She will represent Tennessee in national competition and serve on several working groups with the state education department.

Miller was one of nine finalists statewide for the award, which has been presented to a Tennessee public school teacher most every year since 1960 as a way to promote respect and appreciation for the profession. The finalists were chosen based on scoring from a panel of educators; three regional winners were narrowed down following interviews.

In addition to Miller, who also won in Middle Tennessee, the state recognized Lori Farley, a media specialist at North City Elementary School in Athens City Schools, in East Tennessee. Michael Robinson, a high school social studies teacher at Houston High School in Germantown Municipal School District, was this year’s top teacher in West Tennessee.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen praised the finalists for leading their students to impressive academic gains and growth. She noted that “teachers are the single most important factor in improving students’ achievement.”

Last year’s statewide winner was Cicely Woodard, an eighth-grade math teacher in Nashville who has since moved to a middle school in the same Franklin district as Miller.

You can learn more about Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year program here.


Have you thought about teaching? Colorado teachers union sells the profession in new videos

PHOTO: Colorado Education Association

There are a lot of factors contributing to a shortage of teachers in Colorado and around the nation. One of them — with potentially long-term consequences — is that far fewer people are enrolling in or graduating from teacher preparation programs. A recent poll found that more than half of respondents, citing low pay and lack of respect, would not want their children to become teachers.

Earlier this year, one middle school teacher told Chalkbeat the state should invest in public service announcements to promote the profession.

“We could use some resources in Colorado to highlight how attractive teaching is, for the intangibles,” said Mary Hulac, who teaches English in the Greeley-Evans district. “I tell my students every day, this is the best job.

“You learn every day as a teacher. I’m a language arts teacher. When we talk about themes, and I hear a story through another student’s perspective, it’s always exciting and new.”

The Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, has brought some resources to help get that message out with a series of videos aimed at “up-and-coming professionals deciding on a career.” A spokesman declined to say how much the union was putting into the ad buy.

The theme of the ads is: “Change a life. Change the world.”

“Nowhere but in the education profession can a person have such a profound impact on the lives of students,” association President Amie Baca-Oehlert said in a press release. “We want to show that teaching is a wonderful and noble profession.”

As the union notes, “Opportunities to teach in Colorado are abundant.”

One of the ads features 2018 Colorado Teacher of the Year Christina Randle.

“Are you ready to be a positive role model for kids and have a direct impact on the future?” Randle asks.

Another features an education student who was inspired by her own teachers and a 20-year veteran talking about how much she loves her job.

How would you sell the teaching profession to someone considering their career options? Let us know at co.tips@chalkbeat.org.