School districts find new teacher evaluation procedures challenging

MARSHALL COUNTY — As the school year closed at each of the seven school districts which serve Marshall County, students weren’t the only ones being evaluated for a final grade. Teachers were under scrutiny too.
It was part of the mandated teacher effectiveness evaluation imposed by state and federal regulations. While local school districts can develop their own set of criteria, most used the RISE evaluation and development system identified as the state model by the Indiana Department of Education.

While teacher evaluations are nothing new in this age of accountability, this year’s format change has posed some additional challenges, area superintendents say.

“At Triton the amount of time it takes to do all of the observations and written feedback is more than was needed in the past.,” Superintendent Donna Burroughs said. “The impact for all of the staff is the higher level of accountability and increase in detailed info/data that is needed to complete the evaluation. This is new for all parties. Now for the first time, raises are not automatically given for each year of service,  but are awarded according to evaluation ratings.”

Teachers are rated on four levels: highly effective, effective, improvement necessary and ineffective. The state also mandates that students cannot be instructed two consecutive years by teachers who earn an ineffective rating. If this is going to be an issue, schools have several options: change student schedules, change teacher schedules or notify parents.

“Last year’s legislation on teacher evaluations impacts every teacher in our district,” Plymouth Community School’s Assistant Superintendent Dan Funston agreed. “This year’s process was a huge change. Teachers were not used to being ranked. Principals were not used to the type of observations they completed. There was a tremendous amount of artifact and evidence collection to justify rankings.”

According to a training video on the IDOE Website, school systems are able to modify the RISE system or create their own evaluation process, pending approval by the state. RISE spells out the criteria that must be met and sets the standards to be measured in how teachers plan their lessons, set goals and test their students knowledge.

Other areas of observation and critique include the effectiveness of the teaching, how well the teacher engages students in the lesson and whether student understanding is evaluated and checked.

A third section deals with how the teacher interacts in the school environment, collaborates with peers and advocates for student success. Teacher attendance, promptness, ability and willingness to follow procedures and policies and demonstrating respect for colleagues, students, parents and members of the community are also categories requiring an evaluation.

Glenda Ritz, state superintendent for the Department of Education, said the evaluation process is not designed to be an end-of-the-year crunch, nor be based on a couple of classroom visits. “It’s not designed as a process where you simply collect observations,” she said. “You should have a dialog with your teachers through the school year.”

If a school system modifies the state model or creates one of their own, Ritz stressed that these should include multiple measures and be evidence based, which includes student achievement and test scores.

“We use a modified RISE to make sure that the impact would be as little as possible,” Argos Superintendent Jennifer Lucht said. “Had we not modified RISE as our evaluation system we would have to add administrative staff to complete all the observations that RISE requires, five per teacher. We require 2 per teacher. We also did not use Student Learning Objectives or SLOs.”

Plymouth is also considering a change to the model by adapting RISE to fit Plymouth’s needs.

“RISE is not a district specific tool,”Funston said. “For 2013-2014, we have proposed changes to the statewide model that make the process easier to understand for teachers and principals.  This includes a change that makes most of the evaluation rating based on classroom observations (80%).”

Streamlining the process but complying with the law was the approach taken at Argos Schools.

“My two building principals, the assistant at the Jr/Sr High School and I all complete observations,” Lucht said. “They are done informally by ‘walk ins’ or formally by pre-arranging with the teacher when the observer comes in for the entire lesson. That is called an ‘extended’ observation.

“It is important to remember that Argos followed the law as it is written; we did not follow the RISE model as the DOE recommended,” Lucht said. “We believe that we did the right thing for what is best for Argos and its staff.”

And, according to the state, that is permitted.

But just as some of their students get stressed out over taking the tests, teachers being evaluated also bore the brunt of the new evaluation method.

“It is a tougher process and has created more stress for the teachers and the administrators,” said Burroughs. “Teachers have not had to do student learning objectives in such detail as they’ve been required to do this year.”

As part of the evaluations, the state requires school districts look at student achievement data. This year, results from the state ISTEP testing will be delayed until July due to computer problems with the online testing mechanisms in May.

“There is a constant challenge in trying to quantify student learning, especially when a major part of this quantification is done with one test,” Funston said. “A challenge everyone faces is trying to continue to emphasize qualitative skills (skills are workforce desires) in an environment that mainly values test scores.”

While the results are pending, some school districts have an indication of how teachers fared. Funston said last year’s pilot program placed most of the state’s teachers (90 percent) as effective.

In her school district, Lucht said preliminary evaluations had all of the teachers meeting state levels.

“All of our staff performed effectively or highly effective,” she said.

(This story was published in the June 8-9, 2013 edition of The Pilot News.)