School board members say teacher ratings unfair

(WISH Photo, file)
(WISH Photo, file)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Members of the Indiana State Board of Education said a new performance evaluation system failed parents, students and teachers when results released earlier this week found only 2 percent of educators are in need improvement.

During a meeting Wednesday, some board members — including Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz — echoed similar concerns as lawmakers and education policy experts who criticized the evaluations reported Monday as too good to be true.

“I find it hard to believe that a system of evaluation where only a handful of people are said to need improvement is accurate or effective,” at-large board member Gordon Hendry said. “Clearly, the system failed.”

Legislation passed in 2011 mandated that each district conduct an annual review of educators. Each district has the freedom to choose a method of assessment, although the 2011 law requires standardized tests to play a significant role.

Last year was the first year the evaluations were used in Indiana. Almost 88 percent of teachers were rated effective or highly effective and only about 2 percent reported needing improvement. Less than a half of a percent were deemed ineffective, the lowest grade.

About 10 percent of educators were exempt, some because their districts have not reopened teacher contracts since the law was passed and others because they did not complete the school year.

Some schools with failing grades reported only a few or no educators as needing improvement or being ineffective. Several districts rated every teacher and administrator as “effective,” and didn’t place any in the lower two categories or as “highly effective.”

Only teachers in the higher two brackets — effective or highly effective — are eligible for salary increases.

Tying the performance evaluations to pay, some board members said, might have discouraged more honest answers from districts.

Indiana districts that haven’t raised salaries in years could have felt pressure to rate teachers higher to make sure they were eligible for an increase this year, board member Cari Whicker said.

“We have a system set up where it’s punitive,” she said. “There’s a feeling of, we have to give everyone a good score so that people finally get a cost of living adjustment.”

Hendry said inaccurate data defeats the ultimate goal of the assessments: both to recognize the state’s best educators and provide resources to those who struggle.

“This isn’t fair to our kids and parents,” Hendry said, “and most of all it isn’t fair to our teachers.”

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