By Jacob Rund and Lesley Weidenbener
Only a tiny fraction of Indiana's educators were deemed ineffective while more than one quarter earned the highest possible marks during the first year of a state-mandated evaluation system.
Performance results released Monday by the Department of Education revealed that only one of every 250 educators was ranked in the lowest category. And less than 3 in 100 were rated as needing improvement.
Those two bottom categories block pay raises and require individual improvement plans.
The data from last year's 55,000 evaluations also showed schools that earned overall A grades from the state gave more of their educators higher ratings, while those that received F grades had the most scored ineffective.
"It confirms what I think we already thought was true," said Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, the state's biggest education union.
"As schools' letter grades go down, the number of highly effective teachers shrinks," she said.
But even schools with F grades rated less than 1 percent of their educators as ineffective. The law's author - House Education Chairman Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis - said he's not sure the system produced enough lower ratings to be realistic.
"In every field in life, you have a bell curve in terms of proficiency," Behning said. "You don't predetermine how many people are on each side but it needs to be somewhat balanced. This bell curve is so one-sided that it doesn't it even look like a bell curve."
The evaluation data is the product of a 2011 law passed by the Indiana General Assembly requiring public school districts to establish a system to review their licensed educators. That would include an assessment of anyone working for the school district that needs a license to do his or her job - including teachers, counselors, administrators and others.
The law doesn't mandate a specific evaluation system but does require student test results to play a "significant" role in determining the ratings. Classroom observations and school performance can be other factors. Districts were able to develop their own systems for determining teacher ratings or choose among several models.
School districts rated educators on a 1-4 scale - 1 being ineffective and 4 being highly effective. The data also includes a "not evaluated" category for teachers and other educators who were unable to complete the school year for various reasons.
Statewide, schools rated 26.4 percent of educators as highly effective, 61.2 percent effective, 2 percent as needing improvement and 0.39 percent ineffective. About 10 percent were not evaluated. Schools with A and B grades had more educators rated highly while those with Cs, Ds and Fs rated more teachers as needing improvement and ineffective.
State Superintendent Glenda Ritz said that's an area for improvement. "Highly effective educators are vital to school turnaround and my department will be working to address this gap moving forward," she said in a statement.
Those schools with lower grades also had higher percentages of educators in the "not evaluated" category. More than 14 percent fell into that category at schools with F grades.
"When comparing the data by school performance grades A to F, there is an increase in the percentage of educators who fall within the improvement necessary and ineffective categories and the percentage that do not receive a final rating, indicating a retention concern in our lower performing schools," Ritz said.
Meredith said the "not evaluated" category likely includes some teachers who realized they would receive a poor rating and quit or retired. It could also include educators that schools fired before the evaluation process finished, she said.
That still means the system is working, Meredith said, because it's rooting out poor teachers. "I don't want an ineffective teacher teaching next to me," she said.
The state law requires every public school district to evaluate their teachers and all but charters to report the information to the state. However, roughly 70 districts settled their collective bargaining agreements before the law took effect on July 1, 2011 and were therefore not required to submit data. Those districts will be subject to the law when their contracts expire and new ones are established. Charter schools must begin reporting results for the 2013-2014 school year.
Senate Education Chairman Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said he was surprised to see more than 90 percent of teachers and other educators had received ratings of effective or highly effective. But he said the results - assuming districts took their responsibilities seriously and used rigorous standards - are "really good."
And Kruse said the anecdotal evidence he's seen backs up the data.
"I've visited quite a few schools the last couple years - in my district and across the state - and I am impressed with a lot of the teachers in classrooms," Kruse said. "I'm impressed with what they're doing."
But he warned against using the new data to compare educator ratings between districts. That's because each district determined how it developed the evaluations.
Of the school districts that submitted data, about 115 reported using RISE, the state-adopted model for educator evaluation and development, and 60 said they used a modified version of RISE. Another 62 reported they had used locally developed plans for teacher assessment criteria. The remaining 29 used another system or did not report.
Districts can change evaluation systems on a year-to-year basis.
The highly-rated Crawford County Schools used the RISE system with a few tweaks and ranked nearly every one of its educators as effective or highly effective. Only one received a needs improvement rating and none were deemed ineffective.
Superintendent Mark Eastridge said the evaluation process was valuable. "It's really gotten my administrators and myself and teachers very in tune with quality instruction and what's going on in our classrooms on a day to day basis," he said.
"We've been a very successful school corporation for awhile," he said. "But now we're being much more intentional about looking in the classroom and seeing what's happening."
He said administrators used the evaluation process to identify resources or practices that are successful and should be shared to other teachers and schools.
But Eastridge said he expected schools that are struggling would identify ineffective teachers using the system. And while most schools rated no educators as ineffective, a few did have several in the lowest category.
Madison Junior High in Jefferson County rated four teachers as ineffective, Crestview Elementary in Lawrence Township in Indianapolis had five, Kokomo High School in Howard County had six and the Theodore Roosevelt Career & Technical Academy in Gary had seven.
The individual teacher ratings are confidential. State law requires that if an educator receives a rating of ineffective or improvement necessary, the evaluator and the educator will develop a remediation plan.
Also, districts are required to notify parents if a student is to have teachers rated as ineffective for two consecutive years.
The state also released information Monday regarding Indiana colleges and their teacher prep programs. The information includes the total teacher evaluation scores listed by category for recent graduates of colleges around the state. The only teachers included in the evaluation were those with three years of experience or less. The statistics are broken down by category - teachers with one year of experience, those with two years of experience, and three years of experience.
Kruse said the goal is to help colleges learn how well their graduates are prepared for the classroom and to let superintendents know where to find the best teachers.
"I think the competition it creates at the colleges will be good," Kruse said. "They'll have to have their teachers rated well or they won't be getting new students to enroll."
The data shows that first year teachers are less likely to be rated as highly effective and more likely to be rated as ineffective than their colleagues.
Jacob Rund is a reporter at TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.