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Teacher Wes Upton helps a student with an assignment in his social studies class at Ben Davis Ninth Grade Center in Indianapolis.

Seven Teacher Merit Pay Questions, Answered

Background

Indiana school districts must evaluate teachers and other licensed staff annually. State lawmakers passed educator effectiveness legislation in 2011, but schools didn’t have to start evaluating teachers until the 2012-13 school year. Here are seven things you need to know about Indiana’s teacher evaluation and merit pay system:

  1. Who creates the system? It’s up to local school corporations to pick how they want to implement the educator effectiveness mandate, which requires teachers be evaluated annually. State law also requires schools use some kind of student growth data — typically scores on standardized tests — to rank teachers. Finally, teacher evaluations must be linked with pay.
  2. Who gets evaluated? Every staff member in the school whose position requires a state license gets evaluated. Districts must spell out whether they evaluate staff members like occupational therapists, school counselors and social workers. If a district determines a staffer’s primary role is educating kids, then they’re not only required to be evaluated but paid based on that evaluation. Determining a staff member’s primary role, however, is a district-level call. The criteria for evaluations for different positions, like special education teachers, can differ from criteria for regular classroom teachers.
  3. How are they evaluated? Again, local districts get to spell out the exact formula. The state piloted an evaluation system called RISE that many schools adopted initially. But the state model makes student test score data a bigger part of some teachers’ evaluations than others, so several districts have decided to build on the rubric the Indiana Department of Education developed instead.
  4. What’s the system for rating teachers? Based on the outcome of the evaluation, teachers are placed into one of four categories: highly effective, effective, improvement necessary and ineffective. Scoring “improvement necessary” or “ineffective” ratings on evaluations gives a district the option to get rid of a teacher. While the exact requirements for getting rid of teachers vary by experience level, a district can typically fire a teacher after two “ineffective” ratings.
  5. How do the evaluations turn into a pay scale? The local district makes those decisions. Like the evaluation criteria, the district can determine how much years of experience, degrees earned, student performance data, evaluation results and professional roles factor into its merit-based pay scale. Some school districts are offering merit pay in the form of bonuses. Other districts have revised their pay scales to reflect evaluation data.
  6. Who performs the evaluations? Local schools make that decision. (Can you sense a theme here?) The law allows districts to contract outside agencies or consulting firms to conduct the evaluations. Teachers can evaluate other teachers so long as the evaluating teacher has their evaluation duties written into their job description and hold “effective” ratings.
  7. When does this system go into effect? A handful of districts who piloted the state’s system have been evaluating teachers for two years, but the majority of schools started in 2012-13. Some districts approved longer contracts before the teacher evaluation law took effect in an effort to put off implementation of the merit pay provision for a few more years.

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