IU Research: Indiana Teacher Evaluations are Improving but Remain Inconsistent (IN UCEDD)

August 29, 2016

Teacher evaluation plans developed by Indiana school districts are inconsistent and erratic and vary widely in quality and comprehensiveness, according to research by the Indiana Teacher Appraisal and Support System project at the Center on Education and Lifelong Learning at Indiana University Bloomington.

There is good news in the research report, "
An Analysis of Indiana District Evaluation Plans." It finds that teacher evaluations have changed significantly since the adoption of a 2011 state law requiring annual evaluations. Most districts are using research-based rubrics for identifying effective teaching practices and tying evaluations to teacher-developed student learning objectives.

But the plans differ widely in how they use objective measures, such as test scores and school letter grades, in their teacher evaluations. Nearly one in five districts do not use measures of student growth on standardized test scores in teacher evaluations, a requirement under state rules.

Also, the plans vary significantly in the extent to which they include components of effective teacher evaluations, such as clear statements of philosophy and beliefs, specific procedures for carrying out and communicating about evaluations, and guidance for using evaluations to improve teaching.

"Teachers deserve high-quality evaluations," said Sandi Cole, director of the Center on Education Lifelong Learning. "They should expect a system that provides meaningful evaluation, dialogue with their evaluators and their peers, and real-time feedback. What we see is, there are some teachers in the state who are not experiencing the quality of evaluation that they really have a right to."

The report was produced by the center's
Indiana Teacher Appraisal and Support System, known as INTASS, for the Indiana State Board of Education with funding from the State Board of Education and the Joyce Foundation. Authors of the report are Sandi Cole and Hardy Murphy, co-directors of INTASS. Murphy is also director of the Indiana Urban Schools Association.

The report includes two parts: an analysis of the objective measures included in district teacher evaluations and an assessment of whether the plans encompass components associated with research findings on high-quality teacher evaluation. Researchers examined 245 district plans for the first part of the study and 271 plans for the second part.

In the second part, plans were rated on the extent to which they included research-based components. Plans had scores ranging from 2 to 32 on a 36-point scale. The vast majority of plans were in the medium range of scores, with 31 in the high range and 33 in the low range.

Cole and Murphy said ambiguous language in Indiana education law and regulations likely contributed to inconsistency in the plans. For example, the law says objective measures of student achievement and growth must significantly inform teacher evaluations. Clarification of the term "objective measures," and how such measures should be incorporated in the evaluation process, would be helpful to districts in the development of their teacher evaluation plans.

Also, a shift to a more rigorous version of Indiana's ISTEP-Plus exam and widespread problems in administering and scoring the test may have caused some districts to back off from using test scores in teacher evaluations, the authors said.

Murphy and Cole added that getting teacher evaluation right will be even more important in the future, because the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, will drop a requirement that states monitor school district teacher evaluation plans. They say their work should point to issues with current implementation of the Indiana teacher evaluation law and related policies and identify opportunities for future improvement.

"ESSA is redefining the landscape in public education," Murphy said. "With that, it's going to be even more important to see the principles of effective teacher evaluation get enacted into policy."

Previous studies by INTASS found Indiana school administrators were generally positive about Indiana teacher evaluation requirements but had reservations about how they were being implemented.

Center on Education and Lifelong Learning is a division of the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community, a research center at IU Bloomington that works to increase community capacity through academic instruction, research, dissemination and training, and technical assistance.