As Indiana’s academic standards and statewide assessments change, educators are being tasked with adjusting what they teach while still continuing to help students succeed. How students perform in class and on standardized tests is a key factor in how those teachers are evaluated — and in turn, how they’re paid.
And when compared to the state’s administrators, teachers are still generally more skeptical about the state’s evaluation system, according to a study brief issued by the Center on Education and Lifelong Learning (CELL) at Indiana University.
CELL researchers conducted a large-scale survey of Indiana public school administrators and teachers regarding feelings about the state’s teacher evaluation system and how it has been implemented in their districts.
Results showed that superintendents are most favorable of the evaluation system, followed by principals and lastly teachers. Principals generally say they have more confidence in their knowledge of the system and their ability to conduct effective evaluations than do the teachers they’re rating.
“Uneven training and different access to information, involvement in the development phase and understanding of the evaluation process may offer an insight for why teachers feel less positive about the evaluation process,” the study says. “Additionally, the new era in teacher evaluation represents, for many teachers, a significant change from the way their performance was evaluated in the past.”
State lawmakers passed new educator effectiveness legislation in 2011, but schools didn’t have to start evaluating teachers until the 2012-13 school year.
The new law mandated that Indiana school districts evaluate teachers and other licensed staff annually. Most of the process is individualized to each school district, but state law does require schools to use some kind of student growth data (i.e. standardized test scores) to rank teachers into one of four categories: highly effective, effective, improvement necessary and ineffective.
A district can typically get rid of a teacher if they score in the “ineffective” category two years in a row.
Teacher evaluations must also be linked with pay.
Some key numbers that illustrate the split in confidence among the survey groups:
- Eighty-six percent of superintendents say they feel the changes in the law improved teacher evaluation in their district. A majority of principals (65 percent) express similar feelings, but only 19 percent of teachers are in the same camp.
- All three groups generally agree that teacher effectiveness affects student achievement, and that student achievement and growth can be validly measured. However, when asked whether their district’s own assessments can accurately measure student growth, only half of teachers say yes. Superintendents and principals appear more optimistic (83 and 73 percent responded yes, respectively).
- About 60 percent of superintendents feel that evaluation should be tied to compensation, and a little less than half of surveyed principals agree. A much larger majority of teachers feel the link is inadvisable: only 19 percent say their merit and pay should be linked to evaluations.
- Almost everybody concurs that Indiana’s evaluation system needed fixing, prior to the new law: 87 percent of superintendents, 79 percent of principals and 49 percent of teachers.
About 2,000 educators responded to the survey, which was administered during the spring and early summer of the 2014 school year.
While differences among the three survey groups may be easy to latch onto, researcher Hardy Murphy points out that its their commonalities – for example, the consensus that effective teaching affects student achievement – that provide some positive momentum.
“Those [commonalities] represent an opportunity for us to build trust as these new systems develop in Indiana and across the nation,” Murphy says. “It’s an opportunity through education to create more support about these systems, which ultimately have to be about improving instruction, so that we improve student learning outcomes.”
“How we come up with consensus on the ways to measure student learning represent the challenges that we’re being faced with,” Murphy adds. “What we’re trying to do is help reframe the discussion about public education. Right now, what we believe is dominating the conversation are issues that in some ways are not bringing us together, and we’d like to change that.”
CELL Director Sandi Cole agrees. She says people should take away a “glass half-full” message from this research, because all parties can benefit from being involved in the broader conversation around teaching and learning.
“While the teachers’ beliefs and perceptions are less positive than administrators, they are still within this range where they can in fact be a part of the conversation and continue to play a role in its improvement in a way that makes it more positive for them,” Cole says.
This brief is the first in a two-part series. The second brief, to be released later this month, will present a comparison of the attitudes and beliefs of Indiana superintendents from the current survey with those of the 2012 survey.