When it comes to evaluations, teachers say they want more: More feedback, more objectivity and more training for those who grade them.
The Indianapolis chapter of TeachPlus, a national organization that aims to get teachers involved in education policy making, dug into what teachers thought of the evaluation system in Indianapolis Public Schools, but it’s not the first time the group has advocated for fixing the process.
Teachers have been seeking changes in the way they are evaluated since a 2011 Indiana law called for a stricter system. The new model says student test scores must be a “significant” part of of a teacher’s rating. But defining exactly how heavily the rating is weighed towards tests has been a struggle. School districts have considerable freedom to make that decision, which has led to very different systems in each district.
Some educators and politicians, including state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, have cautioned against putting too much emphasis on test scores.
TeachPlus conducted a study with five focus groups of 24 teachers. The teachers in the study had as little as four and as many as 34 years of experience and taught at 11 different IPS schools at several grade levels. The district’s approach for deciding who are the most competent educators left much to be desired, they said.
Teachers said all kinds feedback were welcome — formal, informal, from evaluators, from peers and even from students. But they said they simply didn’t get enough feedback and it didn’t come in enough time to really help them improve.
One elementary school teacher said there was really no point to being observed if the evaluator didn’t offer feedback or ask questions about the lesson. Without more interaction, they likely were missing the big picture, the teacher said.
Caitlin Hannon, an IPS school board member and executive director of TeachPlus’ local office, said the district’s evaluation process is contrary to the approach teachers use for their own students — a process that demands grading and test results come with conversation.
“The thing that we all say is right for kids, we don’t do with our teachers,” Hannon said.
The state now ties teacher ratings to their pay and job security. Teachers rated “ineffective” or “needs improvement” no longer qualify for pay raises and can be at risk for firing.
“I do think you have to think about how the principal is using the evaluations to improve their staff to really address the weakness in their staff, and I don’t mean just replacing them,” Hannon said.
Principals, and really all evaluators, she said, also need specific, consistent training for how to evaluate teachers properly the study said. And if the district chooses to let other staff members do evaluations, such as instructional coaches or peer teachers, it should make sure they all have adequate training.
“If other people are going to do evaluation as well, you have to have that really rigorous and normed training for them so that people trust the person who is coming in is not just being thrown another task to do,” Hannon said.
Additionally, the study says principals should be held accountable for the evaluations they give in their own yearly evaluations — are they good evaluators, or could they learn more to improve how they work with their staff on improvement?
Hannon said all the teachers surveyed endorsed annual evaluations. Many just wanted the process to be more geared toward helping their work improve rather than just aim to determine if they are succeeding or failing.
IPS is positioned to move in this direction, Hannon said, as it creates more opportunities for teachers in the district to be leaders in their buildings and their departments.
“Overwhelmingly people were like, ‘Evaluation is fine, this is good, we want to be held accountable, and we want to do right by kids,’” Hannon said. “‘But we also want it to be fair, and we want it to be a tool that improves us.’”