The basics of education in Indiana

The basics of teacher evaluation in Indiana, part 2: Ratings formulas and merit pay

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
The Indiana State Board of Education held off on major changes to teacher evaluation today.

(This story is one in a series exploring the basics of key issues in education in Indiana. For a list of the issues and links to the other stories in the series, go here. For the first part of this entry on teacher evaluation, go here.)

Evaluation and rating of teachers under Indiana’s 2011 law requires teacher raises to be tied to student test scores and other factors.

But how it actually works for teachers depends on what they teach and where they work.

Indiana’s system is very wide open with lots districts doing things differently. The law gives local districts significant freedom to create their own systems so long as they stay within basic parameters. Unlike in other states, Indiana does not dictate exactly how teachers must be rated. Some features are set in state law, including the fact that ratings must determine teachers’ raises.

Here are the basic features of the law that lead to pay raises:


In-person observation of each teacher in the classroom is expected by the law, but how much observation is up to each district.

In most cases, teachers are being observed more than in the past. The original state model system, RISE, called for two long observations of at least 40 minutes and three short observations of about 10 minutes, as an example. But some districts have created systems with as many as 20 observations a year.

Student test score growth

The law requires that student gains on standardized tests be a “significant” factor in a teacher’s rating, but does not  set a specific percentage of the score that must be based on test scores, as is common in other states.

For teachers in grades that take state tests — grades 3 to 8 take Indiana’s ISTEP exams in reading and math and 10th graders take end-of-course tests in English and Algebra — test score growth is judged using student results on those tests. For teachers who don’t teach tested grades or subjects, districts must determine alternate means of judging student growth.

Ratings score

Each teacher’s effectiveness is calculated based on their observation and test score growth on a 1 to 4 scale:

4 = Highly effective
3 = Effective
2 = Improvement necessary
1 = Ineffective

Those rated a 1, or ineffective, can be fired under the law. Those rated a 2, or in need of improvement, can be fired if they fail to reach at least a rating of 3 by the next year. Districts also can choose not to give raises to teachers with ratings below 3.

Years of experience and education level

Pay raises for educators have traditionally been based heavily on the years of experience and degrees attained by the teachers. Those factors can still be part of the new systems for awarding pay raises under the 2011 law, but teachers’ ratings must now also be a determinant.

Districts may consider additional factors when awarding raises, such as a teacher’s leadership in the school, attendance and community involvement.

Guidance from the state for how to connect evaluation to pay has evolved since a change in state superintendent. Former Superintendent Tony Bennett urged districts to weigh teacher performance between 50 and 100 percent of their raise, even though the law allows it to be as low as zero. Glenda Ritz, who took the superintendency after defeating Bennett in the 2012 election, has said that should be entirely a local decision.

One example

How exactly a ratings score, and other factors, are translated into a raise each year will vary considerably, as each district can create its own system and must negotiate how pay raises work with its teachers union. And unions have advocated for systems that stay relatively true to the old pay systems that were based mostly on a teacher’s years of experience and educational attainment.

Some of the new systems, despite the serious overhaul in evaluation, are not dramatically changing the way teachers are paid. For example, here’s how Wayne Township schools in Indianapolis devised their system.

A teacher can earn up to 108 points in five areas:

Evaluation score: Teachers earn two points for an “effective” rating and three points for “highly effective.” This score is calculated with 80 percent based on observations and 20 percent on student test score growth.

Years of experience: Teachers can earn 1 point for every year of experience.

Degrees attained: Teachers with masters degrees earn 1 point. Those without an advanced degree can earn the point for earning credits toward a degree, certification or professional growth.

Leadership: Teachers can earn 1 point for demonstrating leadership in their schools, such as through national recognition, serving on committees or volunteering as a coach or tutor.

Attendance: Teachers with 97 percent attendance or better earn 1 point.

Salary Schedule: The bottom of Wayne’s scale is $40,306 and the top is $80,035. Teachers enter the new system with points based on where they stood in the old salary scale. A teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 13 years experience starts with 72 points. A teacher with a masters degree and 17 years starts at 108 points.

On the new scale every 18 points a teacher earns can raise their minimum pay by about $6,000.

 -Updated December 2015

The basics of...

The basics of Jennifer McCormick: Political newcomer struggles to set herself apart

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Jennifer McCormick

This is one of two stories summarizing the basics facts about Indiana’s two major party candidates for state superintendent. A more detailed story about Jennifer McCormick’s policy positions can be found here. To learn more about Glenda Ritz, go here. To see all of Chalkbeat’s “basics” stories, go here. To read all of Chalkbeat’s 2016 election coverage, go here.

Tune in to our live blog on Election Day for highlights from the field and updates on the races as results trickle in.

As the political newcomer to this year’s race for Indiana state superintendent, Republican Jennifer McCormick has had to spend a lot of time telling voters who she isn’t.

She isn’t Glenda Ritz, she’s said, emphasizing that as a former teacher and principal who has spent the last 12 years as a top administrator in the Yorktown school district, she has experience as a steady, organized manager that she says Ritz lacks.

And she says she isn’t Tony Bennett, the education reform-darling who lost in a huge upset to Ritz in 2012, either.

In fact, McCormick falls somewhere between the two: She’s a career public school educator and district leader with policies not entirely unlike Ritz’s. But she also has the backing of the Republican party and advocates who’ve pushed to expand charter schools and private school vouchers.

Although McCormick has been more supportive of charter schools and vouchers than Ritz has been, the Yorktown superintendent says she’s concerned about the way school choice efforts divert money from public schools and vehemently denies suggestions that she would want to see them expand.

On the campaign trail, McCormick has tried to steer the conversation away from controversial policy matters toward what she sees as her strong suit: Her years of leadership running schools and districts.

The New Castle native has spent her career in Yorktown, a traditional public school district in northeastern Indiana that enrolls about 2,500 students K-12. Her school district is wealthier, whiter and faces few of the challenges that confront urban and rural districts across the state.

Yorktown school board president Tom Simpson said McCormick has worked to provide more computers and tablets to students and has made a point of ensuring that teachers are trained to use and teach with the devices. She’s also worked over the years to help the district adapt to its growing population.

How she’ll govern

It’s still not clear what kind of relationship McCormick would have with lawmakers if elected. Although her policies don’t necessarily line up with those of Republican legislative leaders, the fact that she brings none of Ritz’s baggage after four years of clashes with Republican Gov. Mike Pence could ease tensions and lead to smoother working relationships.

But McCormick’s lack of policy experience and adamant statements that she won’t engage in “politics” could also mean she underestimates the work needed guide her vision through the sometimes-thorny Indiana legislature.

Plus, should both she and John Gregg, the Democrat running for governor, prevail, there’d once again be a political division between the state’s top education leader and top executive, who is responsible for appointing the majority of members to the state board of education.

On the issues

McCormick’s positions on many state education issues are similar to those of her opponent. She largely agrees with Ritz on the need for an A-F grade overhaul, more school funding, and adding support and pay for teachers.

Here’s a rundown of her positions:

Vouchers. McCormick said while she supports the power of parents to choose the best school for their children, she’s not interested in expanding programs that divert money from public schools.

Testing. While Ritz has called for a new kind of test that would be given to students in chunks throughout the year and provide feedback to teachers, McCormick said she would be in favor of adopting the SAT, or something like it, for high school students and keeping a simple, ISTEP-like test for elementary and middle school students.

Preschool. While Ritz has campaigned strongly for a “universal” preschool plan for all Indiana four year-olds, funded with what she anticipates would be $150 million per year from the state’s budget, plus federal and private grants, McCormick has called for a more conservative approach — at least at first. She says the state should prioritize students who are struggling or from low-income families rather than offer pre-K to kids with more resources.

2016 Indiana governor race

The basics of Eric Holcomb on education: Moving past the policy wars

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
The 2016 Republican nominee for Indiana governor Eric Holcomb.

This is one of two stories summarizing the basics facts about Indiana’s two major party candidates for governor when it comes to education. A more detailed story about Eric Holcomb’s policy positions can be found here. To learn more about John Gregg, go here. To see all of Chalkbeat’s “basics” stories, go here. To read all of Chalkbeat’s 2016 election coverage, go here.

Tune in to our live blog on Election Day for highlights from the field and updates on the races as results trickle in.

Eric Holcomb has promised to be different from his predecessor when it comes to education if elected governor.

The Republican candidate says he’ll avoid the loud political fights that defined Gov. Mike Pence’s battles with Democratic state Superintendent Glenda Ritz.

But Holcomb’s education policies are largely in line with Pence’s.

The Republican candidate took Pence’s place on the ballot in July after Pence dropped out of the race to join Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump as his vice presidential running mate.

As a result of his late entry into the race, Holcomb’s education policies are less detailed than his opponent, Democrat John Gregg who is making his second run for governor after losing a close race to Pence in 2012.

Holcomb has also never before been elected to public office. So, unlike the former House speaker Gregg, he has little track record of votes or positions on the issues.

But in interviews, Holcomb, 48, has emphasized a desire to work more collaboratively with the next superintendent — Ritz or her Republican opponent, Jennifer McCormick — to try to move on from the many battles between Pence and Ritz.

Holcomb also says he wants a better state test to replace ISTEP, but he has struggled to explain how his vision for the exam would be different from the much maligned test that the state has used in recent years.

Early lessons and role models

Holcomb’s mother was a teacher, so he spent hours at her side when she was grading papers, both at home and after school. He credits her as his earliest example of work ethic and the value of learning.

After graduating Pike High School in Indianapolis and Indiana’s Hanover College, he spent six years in the Navy and then got involved in politics. For the next 20 years, Holcomb worked for Indiana Republicans, but nearly all of his work was out of the public eye.

He started out as an aide to Indiana congressman John Hostettler before first dipping his toe into politics with an unsuccessful run for congress in 2000.

He served as a campaign adviser to Mitch Daniels during Daniels’ first run for governor in 2003 then stayed on, working in the Daniels administration for seven years.

In 2010, Holcomb took over as state Republican Party chairman, a job he held for three years before leaving to become chief of staff to Repbulican U.S. Sen. Dan Coats.

Holcomb attempted his second run for office in 2013 when he ran for his boss’ seat after Coats announced his retirement, but ended up dropping out of that race when Pence offered him the lieutenant governor job in March.

If Holcomb wins the election on Nov. 8, it will be his first elective victory, so voters don’t have much a personal record they can review. It’s not clear how closely Holcomb will follow the lead of the two Republican governors he served, both of whom shaped a more aggressive Republican education strategy that included more test-based accountability for teachers, students and schools, and support for expanding vouchers and charter schools.

A different tone at the statehouse

Despite his connections to Daniels and Pence, Holcomb has said he wants to set a new tone as governor that would be more cooperative than during the education battles of the last two administrations.

Under Daniels, the state expanded charter school sponsoring, launched the state private school voucher program, established an A-F school grading system and put in place a tough new teacher evaluation system.

After Ritz, a Democrat, scored an upset win in the 2012 superintendent’s race, Pence moved aggressively to block the policy changes she proposed.

The cumulative effect left many teachers feeling weary of politics and unfairly attacked.

From his introduction as a gubernatorial candidate, Holcomb has pledged to take steps to improve the relationship with the state superintendent and show more overt support for teachers.

Big differences with Democrats remain

On policy, Holcomb and Ritz are still far apart. Consider:

Testing. Ritz wants to junk the state’s ISTEP exam in favor of a series of smaller tests that could be scored more quickly and the results returned faster to teachers to use in the classroom. She has argued her approach would reduce test anxiety around the once-a-year exam for students and make the exams more useful.

Holcomb insists the state test should only be given once a year. He also has called for the scores to be delivered to teachers more quickly but has not explained how to do that while keeping the same basic design as ISTEP.

School choice. Holcomb describes himself as a strong supporter of school choice programs, like charter schools and vouchers. And he said he wants the state to take action to try to improve schools with persistently low test scores, even if it’s not necessarily through controversial state takeovers of local schools that the state tried under Daniels.

Preschool. Even where he agrees with Ritz and Gregg — that the state should expand its preschool pilot program — Holcomb takes a different approach. He said he does not think the state should offer to pay for preschool for any four-year-old who enrolls as Ritz and Gregg have proposed, just those from poor families. He also envisions a slower expansion of the five-county pilot that serves about 1,500 poor children today, perhaps a few more counties at a time.