News and Tribune

Education/Schools

April 7, 2014

Teacher effectiveness high in Southern Indiana, but officials have concerns on comparisons

Administrators contend the results aren’t an apples-to-apples comparison

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — The results of teacher effectiveness evaluations were released by the Indiana Department of Education on Monday, but educators in each district have their own problems with a statewide comparison.

Districts in Clark and Floyd counties mostly exceeded the state average for effective and highly effective teachers, and had fewer who were ineffective or needed improvement.

But administrators contend the results aren’t an apples-to-apples comparison because each district chose its own evaluation model. While they said they were pleased with the results overall, they said it’s difficult to gauge one district against another.

Some districts tie the ratings teachers receive to pay, but others opted to extend contracts with their teachers unions temporarily before they have to adopt that provision. But as those contracts expire, they’ll have to adjust their compensation practices.

The Indiana State Teachers Association said in an e-mailed statement that even though the variations in evaluation models have created controversy, the results still show public school teachers are good at their jobs.

“Hopefully, these results show what we have known to be true for some time,” ISTA President Teresa Meredith said in the email. “For the most part, our teachers are doing a superior job in Indiana schools. Now educators can stop holding their breath and take a look at the results themselves.”

GREATER CLARK

Andrew Melin, superintendent of Greater Clark County Schools, said he, his administration and the board of trustees chose an evaluation model recommended by the state, RISE.

Whether it provides a chance to see how they perform against other districts or not, he said the evaluations still help the district realize its own strengths and weaknesses.

“This is interesting information and I think it provides a good base for us to learn from,” Melin said. “Ultimately, what it comes down to is we’re constantly trying to make sure that every teacher we have is not just effective, but highly effective.”

Greater Clark had some high marks on its evaluations. Nine schools had 10 or more teachers who were rated as highly effective, three of them with 20 or more. Nine of the district’s 761 reported teachers were rated as needing improvement and two were rated ineffective.

Riverside Elementary School had the highest number of highly effective teachers in the district, with 27 of its 37 teachers earning the designation and none rated as needing improvement or ineffective.

Though the district beat the state averages where it counts and came under the average for low-performing teachers, they won’t see a boost or cut in pay. The Greater Clark Education Association negotiated that into teachers’ last contract, but it expires in July 2015.

Melin said teachers in other districts may had more incentive to perform at higher levels because of the money tied to those ratings, but he’s not sure how much difference it would have made for his district.

“That’s hard to tell. Obviously, we took the evaluation process very seriously,” Melin said. “We wanted to be as accurate as we possibly could be related to the level of a teacher’s quality. I think that our administrators and teachers took the process very seriously and I think the numbers do a good job of accurately reflecting where our teachers are in our district in terms of their overall quality.”

CLARKSVILLE

Kim Knott, superintendent of Clarksville Community Schools, said she thinks her district’s data make sense, but she’s concerned about using it to look at another district.

“Here’s what’s fascinating,” Knott said, “everyone’s using a different model, so I don’t know how the state arrived at a graph to give averages when everyone’s not using the same model.”

Clarksville uses TAP, another evaluation model, to gauge the performance of teachers. She said unless the comparison was made with another district using an unmodified version of TAP, the numbers wouldn’t make sense.

But like Greater Clark, Clarksville’s numbers bested the state in every category and Knott agrees with the data for her district. All but two of Clarksville’s 92 rated teachers scored either highly effective or effective, with two rated as needing improvement at Clarksville Middle School.

Knott said TAP as a teaching tool will continue to improve at the elementary and high school, but they need to work on it more carefully at the middle school by resolving issues in designing benchmark assessments and helping teachers understand the TAP instructional process.

Clarksville ties teacher pay to how they rate on their effectiveness. She said the legislature gave districts local control with teacher evaluations, even if the pay provision in the law left unions and administrators wrestling over whether to extend contracts.

“Really, they have left it up to districts,” Knott said. “We know not all districts are using the accountability model because they’ve entered into union contracts that extend until 2017 and haven’t implemented this model yet. We have no problem with it in Clarksville; we made the decision early on to move in this direction.”

Even so, she said she still thinks comparisons are difficult to make from district to district.

“I would argue that it’s not a reliable process,” Knott said. “You can’t average two different models.”

NEW ALBANY-FLOYD COUNTY

Louis Jensen, director of high schools, said the data pretty much mirrors what’s going on in classrooms in New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp. But even though their scorecard was favorable, they’re not all that worried about percentages.

“Those are numbers that people use because the state of Indiana requires us to,” Jensen said. “For us, it’s a conversation about how to improve teachers and their craft in the classroom. The numbers, for the most part, are not as powerful as the conversations we have with our teachers every time we speak to them during an evaluation.”

Eight of the district’s schools had 10 or more teachers rated as highly effective. Floyd Central beat every school in both counties with 46 highly effective teachers and three schools had 20 or more teachers performing at that level.

Five of the district’s 744 reporter teachers were rated as needing improvement and two were rated as ineffective.

But their evaluation model wasn’t TAP or RISE: Jensen said NA-FC was one of the few statewide that developed its own. He said the ability to factor in ISTEP+ and other evaluation data, along with A to F grades for schools, made sense to NA-FC administrators.

Jensen said the ratings affect the pay of teachers in his district, but a higher rating doesn’t necessarily mean higher pay.

“A number’s a number,” Jensen said. “Some districts probably differentiate pay between effective and highly effective. We don’t do that here. It’s really about how to improve your craft in the classroom.”

He said the idea of letting districts decide how they evaluate their own teachers was the path of least resistance for the legislature, but one that made sense.

“I think if the General Assembly wanted us to do that, they would have mandated that,” Jensen said. “I think the feeling is more of local control and I think that’s why Common Core was put at rest.”

WEST CLARK

As of press time, officials at West Clark Community Schools were unable to comment on the data.

In terms of highly effective teachers, West Clark was the only anomaly in Clark and Floyd counties. None of their teachers in their schools were rated as highly effective, but 286 were rated as effective. Only two were rated as needing improvement.

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