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

(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