Education

State Impact Indiana: Latest On Teacher Evaluation

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Indiana’s statewide teacher evaluation mandate took effect this year — and some state lawmakers want those ratings to reflect not only on the teachers, but on where they went to college.  They’ve proposed using those evaluations as part of a rating system for the state’s teacher preparation programs.  The General Assembly isn’t likely to enact such a system this year, but discussion of the proposal is also likely to continue.  As college leaders weigh the pros and cons, StateImpact Indiana’s Kyle Stokes visited a class at IU’s School of Education:

 

Professor Peter Kloosterman’s course is all about getting inside kids’ heads.  If you have to teach elementary students how to do math, you have to understand how they think about math:

“As teachers, you always need challenge, and here we have an example of, you know, someone who’s going to need some help.”

In front of a lecture hall of about 70 students — most barely a year away from being teachers themselves — Kloosterman projects a video on the big screen.  They see a fifth grader explaining to a researcher how she reads a fraction problem:

“Just change the denominator to one, just one digit lower, then it would equal to one…”

The college students all see it:  This girl really doesn’t understand fractions.  So Kloosterman asks the future teachers to talk it over — how could they help her?

“Like, she’s thinking in pictures, she’s not thinking in the numerical values,” says one student. Another student adds, “She’s just making things up!”

Kloosterman says the fifth grader learns about math much the same way his college students learn about education theory.  What’s different is data:  It’s easy to find out later whether the fifth grader has mastered the skills.  Not quite so for teacher preparation programs.  Kloosterman says he has a lot of anecdotal evidence, but not hard numbers about IU’s graduates:

“Everything we see indicates that our students do well. We just don’t have real good data. We don’t have rating data on teachers.”

Not yet, anyway.  But Indiana’s new teacher evaluation mandate will create a wealth of new data.  Some of Indiana’s teachers colleges want to see all their graduates’ ratings.  State lawmakers want to use that data too, not only to inform teacher prep programs, but to grade them.  The Senate passed a bill earlier this session calling for a rating system for every teacher preparation program in the state.  One of the benchmarks:  70 percent of a program’s graduates would’ve had to receive an “Effective” or “Highly Effective” score on their teacher evaluation within 3 years of graduation.  Republican State Senator Jim Banks authored the proposal:

“It’s my belief that we probably have some schools of education or colleges that are good and some that aren’t as good.”

Undergirding that belief:  Indiana House Education Committee chair Bob Behning suspects some ed schools focus too much on teaching students how to teach, and too little on content they’re teaching.

“I believe you need to have both to be able to be successful today in the classroom, but you have to have your weighting on the content knowledge. I think different schools of education do that differently.”

Those who lead Indiana’s ed schools say that critique isn’t fair.  Brad Balch is the dean of Indiana State University’s College of Education.  He says Indiana’s teacher prep programs want to work with the legislature to make sure any data they get is actually helpful:

“The pressure or the strain from institutions will be, ‘Let’s develop a robust system here that really shares good data and informs every program on each campus.’ In that way, I do believe it’s a win-win.”

Making sense of the data might be tricky — after all, a teacher rated “Effective” in one district might be rated “Improvement Necessary” elsewhere.  Until there’s a way to interpret the data, IU School of Education dean Gerardo Gonzalez says the state should simply let the numbers speak for themselves:

“We all in education, certainly we here at IU think accountability’s a good thing, and we ought to do it, but we ought to do it right.”

House lawmakers seem to be siding with Gonzalez for now, amending the bill to convene a study committee on the issue.  But lawmakers say they hope to leave the door open — not only to rating schools of education in the future, but to also adopting consequences for programs whose graduates don’t perform.  For StateImpact Indiana, I’m Kyle Stokes.

 

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