News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

April 7, 2014

Positive Scores

In Vigo County schools, 99 percent achieve top two ratings in first Indiana teacher evaluations

TERRE HAUTE — In the Vigo County School Corp., 99 percent of teachers evaluated last year achieved the top two ratings of highly effective or effective, according to data released Monday by the Indiana Department of Education.

Of 1,116 teachers evaluated, 412 ranked highly effective (37 percent), with 694 effective (62 percent). That means about 1 percent ranked “improvement necessary” or “ineffective.”

The evaluations are part of a 2011 state law requiring school districts to evaluate licensed staff each year. The data released by the state Department of Education include evaluations of teachers, counselors and school principals.

The law — which took effect in the 2012-13 school year — aimed to replace teacher pay based on years of service with merit pay based on student achievement.

The first-ever release of this data reveals the challenges in implementing a statewide evaluation program. The 2011 law left school corporations some latitude in doing the evaluations and districts used varying models.

The state developed an evaluation model for districts, called RISE, with 115 of nearly 300 districts in Indiana using that model. The rest used a modification of RISE, other evaluation tools or created their own. About 20 districts failed to report which model they used, DOE officials said.

The Vigo County School Corp. used a modification of RISE, said Mick Newport, VCSC director of human resources.  

“We feel that we have some excellent teachers in our corporation,” he said. “One thing we focus on is making sure we hire the best teachers available.”

Early in the evaluation process, if principals saw that a teacher was not meeting expectations, “We didn’t wait. We immediately sat down with them and put them on an improvement plan, if necessary,” Newport said.

The district tried to be proactive and “bring them up to the level we, and the state, expect them to be,” Newport said.

The state data indicate that seven teachers were evaluated as “improvement necessary” and three were “ineffective.” Some of those teachers are no longer with the school system.

Under the law, teachers in the two lower categories can’t receive a pay increase. In Vigo County, there was no salary increase distinction between teachers rated in the highly effective or effective range.

In many cases there is such a fine line between a teacher being highly effective and effective, Newport said. “There are many variables that play a role in the rating of an educator, and we felt that if you were rated in the two highest categories that your compensation should be the same.”

For those rated as ineffective, the district continues to work with them, but if improvement does not occur, the district must at some point look at not renewing their contracts, Newport said.

In the district’s evaluation system, 75 percent of the rating is based on a “teacher effectiveness rubric,” with an administrator doing formal and informal observations that look at planning, instruction, leadership and professionalism. For those who teach ISTEP subjects, standardized test scores (individual growth model) count for 10 percent; locally developed student learning objectives count for 10 percent and the school grade is 5 percent.

For those teachers who don’t teach ISTEP subjects, 75 percent is based on the teacher effectiveness rubric; 20 percent on locally developed student learning outcomes; and 5 percent on the school grade.

Statewide, 87 percent of the 55,000 teachers evaluated were rated as “highly effective” or “effective.” Just over 2 percent were rated in the “improvement necessary” category, and fewer than 0.04 percent were rated as “ineffective.” Ten percent did not receive a final evaluation for a variety of reasons; they may have left the school district or been on family leave.

Karen McDonald, principal at Meadows Elementary last year, believes the evaluation process “went really well. It was a learning curve for us because it was a new system.”

She described the evaluations as “a little more structured,” and she spent more time in the classroom, which she enjoyed. “It opened a lot of doors for conversation” between her and teachers.

This year, she is principal at Deming Elementary.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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