Future of Teaching

State board poised to add more test scores into teacher ratings

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
The Indiana State Board of Education will hold its March meeting Wednesday.

The Indiana State Board of Education is expected to vote tomorrow on how much student test scores factor into teacher evaluations — for some, it could be as much as 50 percent.

The recommendations come from The New Teacher Project, a consultant brought in by the board to help improve the evaluation system. If the state board approves and the legislature makes accompanying changes to state law, some school districts could be required to include student test score growth as a bigger factor in teacher evaluation scores than they do now.

A 2011 law that overhauled teacher evaluation in Indiana left those decisions up to local school districts. That law required student test score growth to “significantly inform” a teacher’s evaluation score, which was interpreted very differently by different school districts.

The recommendations to the state board vary on what percentage of a teacher’s evaluation score should be based on student test scores. It would depend on what subject is taught. Student scores could be as little as 25 percent of ratings and as much as 50 percent for those teaching tested subjects. Several districts count test scores as less than 25 percent of a teacher’s overall rating.

So far, it has been difficult to compare teacher results across the state because the evaluation systems schools are using vary. Critics of using test scores to determine teacher effectiveness have said the scores are unreliable. For example, factors other than the teacher’s work could affect student scores. Where test scores are used as a major factor in evaluation, it is common to see big swings in ratings — teachers rated at the bottom one year rise to the top the next, while those at the top fall to the bottom at unexpectedly high rates.

Indiana teachers this year saw predominantly positive ratings — more than 97 percent of the state’s teachers who were rated were deemed “highly effective” or “effective,” the top two of four categories. Hardly any were rated “ineffective.”

The board is also expected to take action on these four issues:

IPS wants approval for its planned “transformation zone:” The state board will consider plans from Indianapolis Public Schools to create a “district-within-a-district” to oversee some of the district’s most struggling schools. The idea is modeled after a similar approach in Evansville that IPS argues could work better than traditional state takeover of failing schools. The IPS transformation zone is eventually expected to include George Washington, John Marshall and Broad Ripple high schools as well middle and elementary schools that feed into those high schools.

The district might have a plan for Arlington High School: IPS regained control of Arlington in December, the first district to get back control over a failing school that was taken over by the state. IPS officials will present a plan for board approval, but details are not clear. Previously, IPS has said they might merge Arlington and John Marshall high schools or allow an outside group to independently manage the school. Merging was unpopular at a community meeting, and Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said the district would consider other options.

IPS wants the board’s blessing for its plan to jointly oversee Donnan Middle SchoolIPS and representatives from Florida-based Charter Schools USA will ask the board to approve a partnership between the two that would create a K-8 school in Donnan that CSUSA would manage. Officials from the charter school organization have said in the past students would do better if they started in the school when they were younger. IPS and CSUSA would recruit 300 students each to fill grades K-6 under the plan. The new K-8 school would open this fall.

There could be more changes to A-F gradingThe state board is expected to change the way schools can appeal their letter grades. Currently, schools appeal directly to the Indiana Department of Education, but under a proposal schools would instead petition the board and then send a copy of that petition to the Indiana Department of Education — effectively cutting them out of the decision-making process over which schools are considered for appeals.

The board also has plans to discuss changes to science standardsThe board will hear a presentation of proposed new science standards. Science has not been part of the past debate over Common Core and new English and math standards for Indiana. But, like Common Core, the science standards Indiana is considering are also shared by other states: 14 have adopted it so far. If the board approves them Wednesday, the proposed standards begin a nearly year-long process of review and feedback from Indiana educators, board members and the public before final approval is expected in January 2016.


Teachers in Millington and Knoxville just won the Oscar awards of education

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Millington English teacher Katherine Watkins reacts after learning that she is the recipient of a 2017 Milken Educator Award.

Two Tennessee teachers were surprised during school assemblies Thursday with a prestigious national teaching award, $25,000 checks, and a visit from the state’s education chief.

Katherine Watkins teaches high school English in Millington Municipal Schools in Shelby County. She serves as the English department chair and professional learning community coordinator at Millington Central High School. She is also a trained jazz pianist, published poet, and STEM teacher by summer.

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Paula Franklin learns she is among the recipients.

Paula Franklin teaches Advanced Placement government at West High School in Knoxville. Since she took on the course, its enrollment has doubled, and 82 percent of her students pass with an average score that exceeds the national average.

The teachers are two of 45 educators being honored nationally with this year’s Milken Educator Awards from the Milken Family Foundation. The award includes a no-strings-attached check for $25,000.

“It is an honor to celebrate two exceptional Tennessee educators today on each end of the state,” said Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, who attended each assembly. “Paula Franklin and Katherine Watkins should be proud of the work they have done to build positive relationships with students and prepare them with the knowledge and skills to be successful in college and the workforce.”

Foundation chairman Lowell Milken was present to present the awards, which have been given to thousands of teachers since 1987.

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Students gather around Millington teacher Katherine Watkins as she receives a check as part of her Milken Educator Award.

The Milken awards process starts with recommendations from sources that the foundation won’t identify. Names are then reviewed by committees appointed by state departments of education, and their recommendations are vetted by the foundation, which picks the winners.

Last year, Chattanooga elementary school teacher Katie Baker was Tennessee’s sole winner.

In all, 66 Tennessee educators have been recognized by the Milken Foundation and received a total of $1.6 million since the program began in the state in 1992.

You can learn more about the Milken Educator Awards here.

Colorado Vote 2018

Polis campaign releases education plan, including new promise about teacher raises

Congressman Jared Polis meets with teachers, parents and students at the Academy of Urban Learning in Denver after announcing his gubernatorial campaign. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Congressman Jared Polis, one of several Democrats running for governor, released an education plan for the state Wednesday that includes new details on tackling teacher shortages and better preparing high school students for work.

The Boulder Democrat wants to help school districts build affordable housing for teachers, increase teacher pay and make sure that “100 percent of Colorado’s school districts are able to offer dual and concurrent enrollment programs through an associate’s degree or professional certification, and work to boost enrollment in them.”

The education plan includes the congressman’s initial campaign promise to deliver free and universal preschool and kindergarten.

“Part of my frustration is that politicians have been talking about preschool and kindergarten for decades,” Polis said in an interview with Chalkbeat. “It’s time to stop talking … and actually do it.”

Big questions remain, however, about how Colorado would pay for Polis’s plans.

Free universal preschool and kindergarten would cost hundreds of millions of tax dollars the state does not have. Polis has acknowledged that voters will need to approve a tax increase to secure the funding necessary — and voters rejected Colorado’s last big statewide ask to fund education initiatives.

His additional promises, especially providing schools with more money to pay teachers, only adds to the price tag for his education plan. The campaign did not release any projections of how much his teacher pay raise proposal would cost.

“If a teacher can’t afford to live in the community they work in, that is not going to be an attractive profession,” he said. “We need to do a better job in Colorado making sure teachers are rewarded for their hard work.”

Other components to Polis’s plan includes providing student loan relief for teachers who commit to serving in high-need and rural areas, increasing teacher training and building and renovating more.

Polis is the latest Democrat to roll out an education platform.

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston released more details earlier this week about his campaign promise for tuition-free community college and job training.

Johnston’s campaign estimates that the initiative would cost about $47 million annually. The campaign provided specifics on how the state would pay for it: by combining existing federal grants and state scholarships, revenue from online sales tax, and state workforce development funding. Savings from volunteer hours put in by tuition recipients also are factored in.

Former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy released her education plan last month.

Like Polis, Kennedy is calling for teacher raises. She wants the state’s average salary to be closer to the national average. The former state treasurer also wants to expand preschool and job training for high school students. A key piece of Kennedy’s proposal to pay for her initiatives: reforming the state’s tax laws to generate more revenue.

Other Democrats running to replace Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is term-limited, include Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne and businessman Noel Ginsburg.

The Republican field to replace Hickenlooper, a Democrat, is also crowded. Attorney General Cynthia Coffman announced earlier this month that she’s running. Other leading Republican candidates include former Congressman Tom Tancredo, state Treasurer Walker Stapleton, and businessmen Doug Robinson and Victor Mitchell. George Brauchler, district attorney for the 18th Judicial District, dropped out of the race to instead run for attorney general.