Panel Tackles Quality Appraisals of Teachers

by Scott LaFee

Two years ago, the Indiana state legislature decreed that, beginning with the 2012-13 school year, every teacher would be annually evaluated — with compensation tied to the results.

“Our first reaction,” said Sandi Cole, director of the Center on Education and Lifelong Learning at Indiana University, “was holy cow, what are they doing to us?”

In a Saturday morning AASA conference presentation, Cole and Superintendent Ryan Snoddy of the 1,700-student Northwestern School Corporation in Kokomo, Ind., described what happened next — and the lessons they learned.

Fortunately, Cole said, the legislation proved to be flexible, allowing districts to choose or design evaluation systems that suited their individual needs. Roughly half of the districts adopted a state-developed approach, but 14 districts participated in an evaluation process called the Indiana Teacher Appraisal and Support System or IN-TASS, created through a collaboration of teachers, administrators and higher education representatives.

Each district crafted its own distinctive plan, but all featured key qualitative elements, among them:

  • There was a significant effort to establish a clear statement of purpose. Specifically, that the new teacher evaluations weren’t simply to determine who got pay raises, but also to identify best practices and provide additional support to needy teachers. “Doing that helped set aside some of the obvious fears,” Cole said.
  • The evaluation measures used — student growth and instructional process — were weighted through consensus. Though standardized test scores are required to be part of the mix, different districts set different ratios using multiple measures.
  • The system was seen as fair and accurate by all involved.
  • A capable system existed for collecting, analyzing and storing data, one that could be validated and reviewed by teachers.
  • There was an oversight system to refine and improve the evaluation plan and a robust professional development program to address identified problems and weaknesses.

Still, both Cole and Snoddy said the first year of implementation has seen its ups and downs, its challenges and hurdles. For example, while the law mandates inclusion of state testing assessments in teacher evaluations, which are supposed to be completed before the end of the school year, the state has been slow to supply the numbers.

As a result, districts have relied upon older data and incorporated other kinds of growth measures, such as student feedback.

Not surprisingly, Snoddy said “time is a huge issue.” With every teacher requiring an evaluation every year, principals find themselves with a much heavier workload and less time to manage other duties.

“Teacher anxiety” remains ever-present, said Snoddy, but he and Cole said linking compensation to annual evaluations hasn’t proved to be catastrophic or impossible — as long as everybody understands and agrees to the larger purpose of improving student instruction.

“We’ve got a lot more work to do,” said Snoddy, “but we’ve learned some things we didn’t know.”

(Scott LaFee, a writer with the University of California San Diego Health Science Center, is a reporter for AASA’s Conference Daily Online.)

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Access the presenter's PowerPoint slide show on AASA's Conference Daily Online.