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Column: Resist urge to compare teachers, school districts


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It’s usually a given that parents want their children in class with the best teachers.

And so it will be tempting, since the Department of Education released teacher evaluation data Monday, to compare how many educators at one school received the highest ratings compared with those at another school.

Resist that temptation.

The system that’s been used to assign ratings to teachers — a 1 to 4 scale where one is considered ineffective and four is considered highly effective — makes such comparisons, well, ineffective.

That’s because districts can use their own evaluation criteria within the 1 to 4 system, and then principals execute the evaluations of their teachers and administrators within their own buildings. That means the ratings can’t truly be compared.

Senate Education Chairman Dennis Kruse, who helped push the evaluation system into law in 2011, said that’s by design.

The goal, he says, was to give administrators new tools to determine which teachers needed to improve and which ones had skills that should be shared across a school. It’s in many ways an internal, management tool. Therefore, local school officials had significant latitude to develop evaluation programs that best fit their local needs and priorities.

The state law does require districts to use test scores as a significant part of the process for determining teacher ratings. But the law doesn’t define “significant,” and that appears to have been interpreted differently in different districts.

For some who helped create the law, including its author, Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, that’s a problem. He says districts may have not have taken test results into consideration enough. And he says the General Assembly may have to come back to revisit that issue.

“At least we need to talk about some way of maybe tweaking it to a degree,” Behning said last week.

But Kruse thinks it might be time to let the new system mature before rushing out to make changes.

The Republican from Auburn says his Senate colleagues have been complaining about “education reform fatigue.” In other words, they’re a little tired of the constant changes to education rules, modifications in curriculum, and other requirements that have been rolling out of the General Assembly for the past decade.

“I don’t know how you can conduct your schools when we’re making major changes all the time,” Kruse said.

There will likely be a number of educators who say “amen” to that sentiment.

So how can the public use the teacher evaluation data?

According to Kruse, the best way is to use the information to ask good questions of local administrators.

And Behning says those parents with children in failing schools should in particular evaluate how many teachers were determined to be ineffective. If the number isn’t very high, that raises tough questions about what is going wrong, either elsewhere in the school or maybe in the evaluation system, Behning said.

But remember, as tempting as it may be, don’t use the data to compare districts. It’s just not effective.

Lesley Weidenbener is executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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