Lawmaker worries teacher grades ‘not realistic’

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INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Evaluations for Indiana’s public school teachers are in and the numbers look good. They’re numbers you’d think would be a cause for celebration in Indiana. But they’re not.

The reason is simple: some are saying the numbers are too good to be true.

“I have a little bit of concern. Obviously we were hoping to have a true reflection of where everybody fell. And it’s hard to believe, that, I mean it’s good that everybody would be in those two categories, but it’s probably not realistic,” says State Rep. Robert Behning, the chairman of the House education committee. The Indianapolis Republican was instrumental in passing a new, more stringent teacher evaluation system in the state.

But the first numbers under that new system have him scratching his head. 87 percent of the state’s educators, which includes teachers and administrators, were rated effective or highly effective. 3 percent were rated needs improvement or ineffective. 10 percent were not rated.

Glenda Ritz, state superintendent of public instruction issued a statement saying the evaluations confirmed what they already knew — that public schools throughout Indiana are filled with effective and highly effective teachers. And Indiana State Teachers Association President Teresa Meredith, whose organization represents more than 40,000 teachers statewide, said this simply reflects that teachers overall are doing a good job.

“You really have to be on your job, get on an improvement plan and get better if you’re not. Or you need to be moving on, and I think that’s what this data definitely shows,” she says.

The law mandates evaluations be based in part on gains in student test scores, but it allows each district to decide how much those scores will count. Rep. Behning says that may have to change.

“Maybe take away some, unfortunately, take away some local control. But try and develop a model that everyone believes works to truly reflect the quality of a teacher,” says Behning.

But ISTA’s Meredith thinks local control is important.

“I think he’s really out of touch with what life is like in the classroom for students and educators. And I think his thought, his notion that they need to set some common number is a bit arbitrary,” she says.

All sides agree, the numbers need to be studied more closely. And it’s just the first evaluation under the new law. A second set of numbers is expected in September. Rep. Behning says that will give legislators plenty of time before the next legislative session in January, to look at the new numbers and see if changes to the evaluation law will be introduced. Teacher salaries are tied to their evaluations, but it’s not clear yet what these results will mean for that part of the law.

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