Future of Teaching

Nearly all Indiana educators rated effective again

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

In the second year of what was intended to be a tough new system of evaluating educators, the results were the same: hardly any were rated ineffective and nearly all were certified as doing their jobs effectively.

Less than 0.5 percent of educators were rated “ineffective” during the 2013-14 school year, which could place them at risk of being fired, according to data posted on the Indiana Department of Education website in advance of a presentation at Wednesday’s Indiana State Board of Education meeting.

That’s about the same percentage as the prior year.

A slightly greater share of educators — about 2 percent— were rated in the second lowest of four categories, called “improvement necessary.” The percentage of educators in the top category rated “highly effective,” dropped to 26 percent from 35 percent, but nearly all of those who fell were rated in the next highest category, or “effective.”

The ratings are based on an evaluation system put in place during the past three years that was expected to make it harder for teachers to earn top scores.

It hasn’t, and that could lead the Indiana State Board of Education to ask districts to count student test scores as a bigger factor in the evaluation system in the future.

The overhaul was intended to formalize a process that was hit-and-miss in the past: some teachers were evaluated as infrequently as every three years, sometimes based on a single classroom visit from the principal. In most cases, those evaluations did not affect educator raises, and teachers were rarely fired for poor performance.

In most districts, the new system includes several observations and specially trained evaluators reporting strengths and weaknesses on a variety of skills. The 2013-14 data includes more school districts than last year and, for the first time, charter schools. The law’s implementation schedule left out charters and districts still under old labor contracts in the first year.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz has advocated for improved teacher evaluation systems, but differed with Republican leaders and some of her fellow state board members about the details. In particular, Ritz favors more flexibility for local school districts to devise their own systems, including allowing local decisions about how much to factor in student test scores.

But so far the new system has produced little change.

An Indiana Department of Education study of a sample of school districts conducted under Ritz’s predecessor, Tony Bennett, prior to the 2011 change in state law, showed very similar results were produced by the old system: 99 percent of educators were rated effective.

Indiana’s law applies to anyone who carries a state certificate, which includes counselors, principals, superintendents and others besides teachers.

Changes are in the works, however. Claire Fiddian-Green, co-director of Gov. Mike Pence’s Center for Education and Career Innovation, said the state board wants to clarify the rules. The board soon will share best practices and new guidelines that Fiddian-Green hopes will make the system work better.

She cited the number of F schools — about 4 percent of schools in Indiana last year — as out of step with less than 1 percent of teachers rated ineffective.

“I do think that calls into mind whether the models, especially the local models, are being implemented with fidelity when it comes to the law,” she said

Unlike other states, Indiana gives local school districts tremendous flexibility to develop their own systems to judge performance. While districts must ultimately assign each educator a 1 to 4 rating, how they get there varies widely. Because of those variations, it can be hard to determine how well school districts follow the state evaluation law.

For example, state law says student gains should be a “significant” factor in an educator’s rating, but it leaves it to schools to figure out how much weight that translates to. Fiddian-Green said the clarifications, set to come before the state board in February, could set a range of percentages for just how much student test scores should factor in.

“It would be too far for me to say that there was a question of the validity of the data,” Fiddian-Green said. “I think it’s more that this is a new system and we’re working out the kinks.”

But Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teacher Association, said the results are encouraging.

“I think statewide, by and large most of our teachers in the profession are doing a really good job,” she said.

For the first time, the state released separate totals for teachers, superintendents and principals. Democratic House leader Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said looking at the performance of administrators as well as teachers is a good idea.

“One thing we’re starting to hear is that we shouldn’t be blaming our teachers for everything we perceive as wrong with education,” Pelath said. “And I’m starting  to hear that come from my friends across the aisle.”

Those results showed superintendents got the best ratings of all, with 41 percent rated highly effective and just 0.22 ineffective. Two-thirds of all superintendents were rated in the top two categories.

Teachers had fewer in the top category (35 percent) but more rated in the top two categories (89 percent) and 0.34 rated ineffective.

Principals had the most rated ineffective, but the percentage was still tiny, 0.58 percent, and 86 percent of principals were rated in the top two categories.

Under Indiana’s law, effectiveness is rated on a 1 to 4 scale. Factors that go into the ratings of teachers include observations by administrators or other trained evaluators, student test score gains and other factors that vary by school or depend on the subject taught.

Sanctions for those rated in the lowest categories are serious. An ineffective rating, a 1 on the scale, can be cause to fire an educator immediately. Those who are rated in the next lowest category, a 2 or in need of improvement, can be dismissed if they fail to raise their ratings to effective (3) or highly effective (4) after two years.

Included with the latest results are two additional sets of data: one looking at the connection between educator quality and school A to F ratings and another looking at the possible effects of educator quality on teacher retention.

There appears to be a strong connection between educator effectiveness and school grades. Schools with A grades have far more highly effective teachers on average (more than 40 percent) than schools rated F (about 15 percent).

The reverse is also true. Although the numbers are small, the percentage of educators rated in the two lowest categories was more than five times high at F schools (more than 5 percent) than at A schools (1 percent).

A-rated schools were far more likely to keep their teachers employed in the same school or school district (85 percent retained) than F rated schools (64 percent).

Meredith pointed out that in charter schools rated D or F, more teachers were rated ineffective than in traditional school districts rated D or F. In traditional schools rated D or F, ineffective teachers made up less than 1 percent of all teachers. But in charter schools rated D or F more than 10 percent of teachers were rated ineffective.

“Why would you keep someone who’s doing that poorly of a job?” Meredith said. “As a parent, if there was an ineffective person in a school system and they are listed on that chart, I would be upset … to see charter schools be so high is a little frightening to me.”

Meredith said she was also concerned that evaluations could be increasingly based more on student test scores. Those scores, she said, are a snapshot of a student’s performance at one point in time, whereas teacher evaluation data now is mostly based on an entire year of observation in addition to more objective measures.

Tosha Salyers, spokesperson with the Institute for Quality Education, said it’s more fair that teachers are being evaluated with objective data. The Institute advocates for changes in education policy, favoring ideas like greater scrutiny on educator performance and wider school choice offerings.

Salyers said when she was a teacher, performance evaluations were too subjective and did little to help her improve.

“We think there’s still work to be done,” Salyers said. “The legislation is fairly new, and we think that the more schools become comfortable with it that the results will do what they should do: inform teachers’ practice. What we hope is that it’s a tool being used as not a punitive thing, but as a way to help teachers grow.”

 

Human Resources

A minimum salary for Colorado teachers? State officials may ask lawmakers to consider it.

A teacher reads to her students at the Cole Arts and Science Academy in Denver. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

As part of a broad plan to increase the volume of high-quality teachers in Colorado, state officials are considering asking lawmakers to take the bold step of establishing a minimum teacher salary requirement tied to the cost of living.

Officials from the state departments of education and higher education are finalizing a list of recommendations to address challenges to Colorado’s teacher workforce. Pressing for the legislation on teacher salaries is one of dozens of recommendations included in a draft report.

The report, assembled at the request of the legislature, also proposes a marketing campaign and scholarships to attract new teachers to rural areas.

Representatives from the Colorado Department of Education said they would not discuss the recommendations until they’re final. However, the department earlier this month briefed the State Board of Education on their proposed recommendations in advance of the Dec. 1 deadline for it to be finalized.

The impending report — based on thousands of responses from educators, students and other Colorado residents in online surveys and town halls across the state — is a sort of first step for the state legislature to tackle a problem years in the making. Since 2010, Colorado has seen a 24 percent drop in the number of college students graduating from the state’s traditional teacher colleges. There’s also been a 23 percent drop in enrollment in those programs.

Residency programs, which place graduate students in a classroom for a full year with an experienced teacher, and other alternative licensure programs have seen a 40 percent increase in enrollment. But those programs produce far fewer teachers and can’t keep up with demand.

Colorado faces a shortage of teachers in certain subjects, regions and schools, and circumstances vary. Math and science teachers are in short supply: Only 192 college students in 2016 graduated with credentials to teach those subjects. The same year, 751 students left with a degree to teach elementary school.

And rural schools have had an especially hard time finding and keeping teachers.

Here’s a look at what the state departments are considering recommending, based on the presentation from education department officials to the state board:

Provide more and better training to new — and veteran — teachers.

Colorado schools are already required to offer some sort of induction program for new teachers. This training, which lasts between two and three years, is supposed to supplement what they learned during college.

For the last two years, the state education department has been pushing school districts to update their programs. The recommendations in the report could kick things up a notch.

The education departments are asking for updated induction requirements to be written into statute and more money to be provided to districts to pay for the training.

The draft report also calls for more more sustained training for veteran teachers, including competitive grant programs.

An additional suggestion is to create a program to train teachers expressly to teach in rural classrooms.

Increase teacher compensation and benefits.

This will be a hard pill to swallow. According to the presentation to the state board, the education departments want to call on lawmakers to set a minimum salary for teachers based on the school district’s cost of living.

The presentation to the board lacked specifics on how lawmakers and school districts could accomplish this. One board member, Colorado Springs Republican Steve Durham, called it a “mistake” to include such a recommendation.

Keeping up with the rising cost of living is a challenge. A new report shows new teachers in the state’s three largest school districts couldn’t afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment.

“We hope the report itself is going to talk a lot the cost of living — that’s what we heard from our stakeholders across the field,” Colleen O’Neil, the education department’s executive director of educator talent told the state board. “They literally were not able to meet the cost of living because their salaries did not compensate them fairly enough to find housing.”

Other suggestions the report might highlight to improve teacher compensation include loan forgiveness, housing incentives and creating a differentiated pay scale for teachers — something teachers unions staunchly oppose.

Help schools better plan for hiring and send teachers where they’re needed.

One short-term solution the state is considering recommending is allocating more resources to help schools plan for teacher turnover. This includes providing incentives for teachers to notify school leaders about their plans to leave the classroom earlier.

The education departments are also suggesting the state increase the number of programs that can help teachers get licensed in more than one subject at a time. Other ideas include offering scholarships to potential teachers to complete licensing requirements for content areas that are lacking viable candidates — likely math and science — and providing transportation and technology stipends for rural teachers.

Make the teaching profession more attractive.

Teachers “feel they’re not treated like professionals,” O’Neil told the board. So the education departments want the legislature to allow them to partner with private entities to launch a marketing campaign to lift the profile of teaching as a career in the state.

The education departments also hope the legislature considers creating more opportunities for middle and high school students to consider teaching as a viable career path. This could include reinvigorating the state’s Educators Rising program, a program for high school students interested in teaching.

student teaching

Building a teacher pipeline: How one Aurora school has become a training ground for aspiring teachers

Paraprofessional Sonia Guzman, a student of a teaching program, works with students at Elkhart Elementary School in Aurora. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Students at Aurora’s Elkhart Elementary School are getting assistance from three aspiring teachers helping out in classrooms this year, part of a new partnership aimed at building a bigger and more diverse teacher pipeline.

The teachers-to-be, students at the University of Northern Colorado’s Center for Urban Education, get training and a paid job while they’re in college. Elkhart principal Ron Schumacher gets paraprofessionals with long-term goals and a possibility that they’ll be better prepared to be Aurora teachers.

For Schumacher, it’s part of a plan to not only help his school, but also others in Aurora Public Schools increase teacher retention.

“Because of the nature of our school demographics, it’s a coin flip with a new teacher,” Schumacher said. “If I lose 50 percent of my teachers over time, I’m being highly inefficient. If these ladies know what they’re getting into and I can have them prepared to be a more effective first-year teacher, there’s more likelihood that I’ll keep them in my school in the long term.”

Elkhart has about 590 students enrolled this year. According to state data from last year, more than 95 percent of the students who attend the school qualify for subsidized lunches, a measure of poverty. The school, which operates with an International Baccalaureate program, has outperformed the district average on some state tests.

The three paraprofessionals hired by the school this year are part of the teaching program at UNC’s Lowry campus, which has long required students to work in a school for the four years they work on their degree.

Students get paid for their work in schools, allowing them to earn some money while going to college. Students from the program had worked in Aurora schools in the past, but not usually three students at once at the same school, and not as part of a formal partnership.

The teaching program has a high number of students of color and first-generation college students, which Rosanne Fulton, the program director, said is another draw for partnering with schools in the metro area.

Schumacher said every principal and education leader has the responsibility to help expose students to more teachers who can relate to them.

One of this year’s paraprofessionals is Andy Washington, an 18-year-old who attended Elkhart for a few years when she was a child.

“Getting to know the kids on a personal level, I thought I was going to be scared, but they’re cool,” Washington said.

Another paraprofessional, 20-year-old Sonia Guzman, said kids are opening up to them.

“They ask you what college is like,” Guzman said.

Schumacher said there are challenges to hiring the students, including figuring out how to make use of the students during the morning or early afternoon while being able to release them before school is done for the day so they can make it to their college classes.

Schumacher said he and his district director are working to figure out the best ways to work around those problems so they can share lessons learned with other Aurora principals.

“We’re using some people differently and tapping into volunteers a little differently, but if it’s a priority for you, there are ways of accommodating their schedules,” he said.

At Elkhart, full-time interventionists work with students in kindergarten through third grade who need extra help learning to read.

But the school doesn’t have the budget to hire the same professionals to work with older students. The three student paraprofessionals are helping bridge that gap, learning from the interventionists so they can work with fourth and fifth grade students.

Recently, the three started getting groups of students that they pull out during class to give them extra work on reading skills.

One exercise they worked on with fourth grade students recently was helping them identify if words had an “oi” or “oy” spelling based on their sounds. Students sounded out their syllables and used flashcards to group similar words.

Districts across the country have looked at similar approaches to help attract and prepare teachers for their own schools. In Denver, bond money voters approved last year is helping pay to expand a program this year where paraprofessionals can apply for a one-year program to become teachers while they continue working.

In the partnership at Elkhart, students paraprofessionals take longer than that, but in their first and second year are already learning how to write lessons during their afternoon classes and then working with teachers at the school to deliver the lessons and then reflect on how well they worked. Students say the model helps them feel supported.

“It’s really helping me to become more confident,” said Stephanie Richards, 26, the third paraprofessional. “I know I’m a lot more prepared.”

Schumacher said the model could also work in the future with students from other teaching schools or programs. It’s a small but important part, he said, toward helping larger efforts to attract and retain teachers, and also diversify the ranks.

“You’re doing something for the next generation of folks coming in,” he said.