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Teacher pay now tied to test scores

Munster schools teachers Jennifer Bendis Karey Shanks ChristinFormoso Ruth LaBudapplaud overwhelming passage referendum Tuesday evening Charliehorse Munster.  | Jeffrey

Munster schools teachers Jennifer Bendis, Karey Shanks, Christina Formoso and Ruth LaBuda applaud the overwhelming passage of the referendum Tuesday evening at the Charliehorse in Munster. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 9, 2013 12:00AM



Spring marks the traditional time that less-experienced teachers in financially-strapped school districts get the bad news — they’re being laid off.

Now, however, the rules have changed.

Under a state law passed in 2011, a teacher’s fate is no longer determined by seniority, but by student performance on ISTEP+.

The law went into effect this year, but some school districts, including Gary and Valparaiso, postponed its implementation by extending collective bargaining contracts with teacher unions.

Under Public Law 90, annual evaluations place teachers into four performance categories — highly effective, effective, needs improvement and ineffective.

A portion of the rating will be based on ISTEP+ results. Districts can give merit raises to teachers in the top two categories. Those in the lowest two categories would be placed on a 90-day improvement plan.

The law also requires the Indiana Department of Education to post the results on its website by Sept. 1. Charter schools are bound by the law, as well.

Test gaffe impact

This year’s round of evaluations are skewed by ISTEP testing computer problems that shut down the testing for two days.

The state’s largest district, Fort Wayne Community Schools, has already announced it won’t use the results for evaluations, unless they are validated by a third party.

It isn’t clear if the results will be compiled in time to meet the law’s deadlines.

Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said the evaluations seem to be working smoothly but she said her union will get a bigger picture at a statewide meeting later this month.

“Teachers felt they spent too much time uploading information to their evaluation. For some, it seems to be going OK, now it’s a matter of waiting for final data.”

Meredith doesn’t dismiss using test score data to rate teachers,
but she doesn’t think it should be the ultimate factor. “There are so many pieces that have to be considered.

“It’s really sad that a test score should have so much power like whether I have a job, my principal does and whether the school can even exist.”

The old way

Prior to the new law, teacher evaluations were left up to individual districts. Some union contracts banned annual reviews for teachers with several years of experience.

Under the old system, 99 percent of teachers were rated effective. Former Gov. Mitch Daniels and former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett pushed a fleet of education reforms through the Republican General Assembly in 2011, including the evaluation bill.

They contended the old evaluations didn’t reflect teacher quality because 25 percent of students don’t pass statewide exams.

Letting go

The Gary Community School Corp. has notified more than 100 teachers they won’t have jobs next year unless other older teachers leave.

This summer, the Gary Teachers Union and school officials will forge a new evaluation procedure.

Nora Glenn, a Gary English teacher who’s been laid off three times based on seniority, said she supports the new evaluation system if it’s administered fairly.

“I love to be evaluated, if it’s constructive.... If it gets rid of people who are killing our kids’ minds and imaginations, then they need to go.”

Merrillville Community Schools Superintendent Tony Lux said, like Gary, his district will begin evaluating teachers under the new law next year.

“We’ve been doing a lot of work to get ready for it,” he said. Lux said the merit pay amount will be negotiated with the district’s teacher union this summer.

“When you don’t get much new money, you can’t give merit raises,” he said.

Top state school chief Glenda Ritz, who defeated Bennett and opposed Public Law 90, is easing up on encouraging districts to follow the state-created RISE evaluation model. Instead, she said they can create their own models, as long as they meet the law’s requirements.

Sharing skills

As more states adopt similar teacher evaluation measures, there’s been concern the competition for raises will diminish collaboration among teachers.

“It’s part of a teacher’s nature to be collaborative,” says Meredith. “But as it becomes more competitive, I think it will harm teaching in the end.”

Principal Angela West of the 21st Century Charter School in Gary, disagreed.

“There is no competition. When one does well, we all do well,” she said. “My whole team needs to shine. We don’t run from accountability.”



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