Future of Teaching

Indiana flunked hardly any teachers last year

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Community school director Fiorella Guevara, left, looks at student writing samples with a bilingual teacher at M.S. 50 in Williamsburg.

For the third year in a row, barely any Indiana teachers, principals and superintendents were rated “ineffective” under the state’s fledgling evaluation system.

Of the 68,386 educators evaluated by the state in 2015, just 260 — 0.38 percent — got the lowest rating, a status that could put educators in the state at risk for being fired.

About 88 percent of educators were rated “effective” or “highly effective” in 2015, the top two ratings of four possible options, and 1.47 percent of educators were rated “improvement necessary,” according to state data. Broken down by job, 89 percent of teachers, 78 percent of superintendents and 87 percent of principals were considered “highly effective” or “effective.”

It’s not clear if the high-ratings trend would’ve continued naturally without a recent change to state law. Earlier this year, lawmakers decided not to penalize teachers who were rated ineffective because of changes to the state ISTEP exam that resulted in a drop in test scores for nearly all schools in 2015.

The Indiana General Assembly passed a bill to hold teachers “harmless” if their students’ test scores fell. Schools were blocked from using ISTEP scores as part of a teacher’s evaluation for 2015 unless it would improve a teacher’s rating. The law also ensured teachers would receive bonuses or salary increases no matter what A-F letter grades their schools received.

Indiana lawmakers put the new statewide evaluation system in place in 2011 with the goal of raising expectations for teachers to keep improving their performance and demonstrating that their students were learning more, with state tests scores as key evidence.

But the law gave schools widespread flexibility to customize their evaluation systems, and the Indiana State Board of Education heard last month that such freedom has made it difficult to establish a standard expectation for what qualifies as good and bad performance.

The new system also has not identified more teachers in need of improvement or removal from the classroom in the way proponents of the law expected it would. Before the law passed, the Indiana Department of Education conducted a study of a sample of Indiana school districts that showed just 1 percent of teachers were rated ineffective. Then-state Superintendent Tony Bennett termed that success rate a “statistical impossibility.”

But since the new system went into place, yearly evaluation results have been fairly similar. In 2014, 0.35 percent of educators got the lowest rating, and in 2013, 0.39 percent did.

In a presentation to the state board, the education department’s coordinator of teacher recruitment and retention, Caitlin Beatson, said schools with higher A-F grades tended to have more teachers rated highly effective during the past three years, while schools that got F-grades had slightly higher percentages of teachers rated as ineffective or needing improvement.

Similar trends can be seen in charter schools, which didn’t start reporting evaluation data until 2013, Beatson said.

Board member Lee Ann Kwiatkowski, an assistant superintendent in Warren Township, said teacher evaluation scores are just one indicator of what’s happening in classrooms and school buildings.

“We can’t forget that schools across the state, depending on where they are located, were given complexities,” Kwiatkowski said. “So as we’re looking just by letter grades, I just don’t want to lose sight of that.”

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.

surprise!

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.