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Making the grade

Teachers better than agenda-driven critics assert


The state director of Stand for Children, an education reform group, points to passing rates on ISTEP+ as evidence that Indiana’s new teacher evaluation systems are flawed. Justin Ohlemiller asks how 87 percent of teachers are rated effective or highly effective if one in four students didn’t pass the standardized test.

A better question: How could anyone believe the just-released evaluation results are a true measure of educator effectiveness and use them in yet another attack on public school teachers? Consider that scores from the computer-error plagued ISTEP+ test last spring were one measure used in rating educators. Consider that the results don’t include teachers in Indiana charter schools, including some of the lowest-performing schools in the state. Never mind that the results, in fact, don’t even include all public school districts.

Before accepting the evaluation results as the be-all and end-all of teacher effectiveness, Hoosiers should consider some questions raised by Public Law 90, the General Assembly’s educator evaluation requirement:

•Can a teacher’s effectiveness truly be measured and labeled? Consider another professional – your family doctor. If you believe he or she is highly effective, is it the doctor’s skill or is it because you strive to maintain a healthy lifestyle and you’ve been fortunate to avoid a serious illness? If several of your doctor’s patients died last year, does it mean the physician was ineffective? Isn’t it possible that teachers – like physicians – must have achieved a certain level of skill even to be hired or to survive in a demanding profession?

•Why is there an expectation on the part of Stand for Children and other so-called reformers that more teachers would be labeled as ineffective? Why do the evaluation requirements ignore sound research linking student academic results and poverty? Could there be a political motive in charging that educators affiliated with teacher unions are unqualified?

•If educator effectiveness was truly the goal, why have lawmakers taken steps to reduce standards for teacher preparation? Why did they exempt educators in taxpayer-supported voucher schools or initially give charter schools a pass?

The evaluation law is now in place, and public schools have no choice but to follow it. Taxpayers and voters, however, shouldn’t accept that Indiana school districts didn’t hold themselves accountable for teacher effectiveness before the law was passed.

Superintendent Chris Himsel of Northwest Allen County Schools noted that the district takes care to hire the best teachers and to train and coach them in their early years.

Only two Northwest Allen teachers were identified as ineffective by the data. Both have left the district, but only after efforts to help them improve.

Gerardo Gonzalez, dean of the School of Education at Indiana University-Bloomington, points to statewide evaluation results that clearly demonstrate a point educators have long argued: Experience counts.

“The group of teachers with three years of experience had a larger proportion of highly effective teachers than the group of teachers with two years of experience, which had a larger proportion than the group with one year of experience,” he said in a statement, noting that the state’s evaluation policies discourage rewarding experience in setting teacher salaries.

Gonzalez also answers the charge Stand for Children makes in criticizing the results as flawed and he points to a danger posed by hanging simplistic labels on professional educators.

“These data do not align with critics of teacher preparation who have been saying that the system is broken,” Gonzalez said. “We need to celebrate these results and stop creating a crisis that’s discouraging young, bright students like these teachers in Indiana to choose teaching as a profession.”