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by Megan Trent

January 27, 2015 – State Board of Education members are attempting to tackle the issue of teacher evaluations and how closely they should be tied to student test scores. On February 4th, the board will consider recommendations from The New Teacher Project, a group brought in as a consultant on the issue.

Under current state law, test scores are supposed to “significantly inform” a teacher’s evaluation, but that can be interpreted differently by school districts. The New Teacher Project recommendations include setting a range for teacher evaluations. For teachers specializing in an area covered on ISTEP tests, 33% to 55% of the teachers’ evaluations would be based on student test scores. Educators that teach subjects not covered on ISTEP would have a range of 25% to 40% of their evaluations based on test scores.

The recommendations, however, also highlight the need to take other performance measurements into account. Teresa Meredith, President of the Indiana State Teachers Association, says decisions about teacher evaluations should be made by local school districts.

“When you’re talking about tying test scores to anything, you’re really stepping away from being really student centered. We really need to be turning the conversation towards, how are students learning? And are we really supporting the educators that are assisting those students in their learning process?”

Daniel Altman, press secretary for the Indiana Department of Education, agrees. Altman says the legislature made sure local school leaders would have input into how teachers in their districts are evaluated.

“The Superintendent opposes this proposal and so does the Department of Education. It is our belief this is the sort of thing that should be decided at the local level,” says Altman. “One size doesn’t fit all for every single school and so we think it’s the sort of decision that schools should be able to make for themselves.”

Another part of the proposal deals with how the evaluations might impact teacher pay. Under the proposed changes, teachers would not necessarily miss out on pay raises based on their evaluation results, creating less incentive for administrators to make evaluation decisions based on monetary factors.

Meredith says there have been so many changes made to standards and assessments during the past decade, that test scores shouldn’t be tied to teacher pay at all.

“It’s difficult to see the value in tying it to whatever those test scores are, because there hasn’t been a real length of time of true consistency on any one data point. So it seems smart to me to separate the issues of student test scores and teacher compensation. They’re very different issues,” she says.

The solution to finding a better system for teacher evaluations, says Meredith, must start within the individual districts. However, she insists placing more emphasis on test scores takes the love of learning out of schools.

“I think you have to have educator discussions with the local educators to find out what they believe is a true measure of what they’re doing,” says Meredith. “How do you incorporate that student data piece in? I think there has to be a way to do that. I’m just not sure this one piece of data is the only piece that ought to be considered. Students are so much more than test scores.”

Board members are expected to discuss the recommendations and possibly vote on the issue at their February 4th meeting. The changes, if adopted, likely wouldn’t be implemented until 2016.