Indiana officials mull how to evaluate 78,000 teachers as coronavirus shutters schools

Indiana teachers are still waiting to find out how they will be evaluated with school buildings closed through the end of the academic year because of the coronavirus.

During a Tuesday webinar, State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick said the state is currently not planning to cancel this year’s evaluations, but said they are “going to have to look differently.”

The stakes for teachers are high because evaluations determine whether they are eligible for a raise or the state’s $37 million teacher appreciation grant money next year. 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 percent were rated as ineffective or “improvement necessary,” according to state data.

The Indiana State Teachers Association is calling on the state to waive this year’s evaluation requirements and rate all teachers as effective so they can receive raises and the state grant. Improvement plans could be tabled until schools reopen, said ISTA president Keith Gambill.

“The focus now should be on students, rather than on creating portfolios of work, scheduling online observations and measuring teacher adherence to goals and standards,” Gambill said in an email statement.  “Given that nearly a third of the teaching year has been disrupted, it’s hard to imagine how any annual review process would be meaningful to anyone or serve as a fair basis for high-stakes decisions.”

Each district determines how its teachers are evaluated, but state law does lay out general requirements. Typically, teacher evaluations rely heavily on observations by principals, which will be difficult this year as schools have moved to remote learning or e-learning. Many teachers had to scramble to adapt their lessons into online assignments or paper packets.

This is the last year state law will require schools to base a teacher’s performance score significantly on their students’ test results. Schools can change their rubric after lawmakers decoupled evaluations from test scores, following concerns about whether low state test results are an accurate reflection of students’ knowledge.

Schools and teachers will hopefully get more guidance this week, McCormick said. Making a temporary change to evaluations in response to coronavirus closures will require an executive order from Gov. Eric Holcomb, McCormick said. The Department of Education submitted its recommendation to Holcomb and the State Board of Education a couple weeks ago, and all are working to find a middle ground.

“That teacher evaluation piece is huge,” McCormick said. “We are working with the governor’s office and State Board of Education to provide the most flexibility possible.”