Indiana allows schools to alter teacher evaluations amid coronavirus closures

Indiana has changed the requirements for evaluating teachers this year, offering districts unprecedented flexibility as school buildings remain closed because of the coronavirus.

In an executive order signed Friday morning, Gov. Eric Holcomb gave district leaders two options. Teachers can keep their evaluation from 2018-19, as long as they aren’t on an improvement plan. Or, administrators can give teachers a new evaluation that will skip a few requirements that would be difficult or impossible to complete given the closures.

According to the order, new evaluations cannot include student scores on state tests or local assessments that weren’t finished and observations by principals that weren’t conducted before campuses closed.

The stakes for teachers are high because evaluations determine whether they are eligible for a raise and the state’s $37 million teacher appreciation bonus. Most of the state’s more than 78,000 full-time teachers earned the top two evaluation ratings for the last school year. Only 1.4% were rated as ineffective or “improvement necessary,” according to state data.

Earlier this week, the Indiana State Teachers Association called on state officials to waive teacher evaluations entirely this year, asking that all teachers be rated “effective” so they can receive a raise or bonus.

While the order doesn’t go that far, it does offer an unprecedented amount of flexibility for schools. While the exact formulas for evaluations are determined locally, state statute outlines what pieces are required to be included in these evaluations, so it took an executive order from the governor to make a change.

This would have been the last year teacher evaluations in Indiana were required to include state standardized test scores. Lawmakers decoupled the two starting next year. Coronavirus closures prompted the state to cancel standardized tests this year.