The Herald Bulletin

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April 13, 2014

Maureen Hayden: Want better teacher ratings? Ask the kids

The state may be back where it started, encumbered with a flawed teacher grading system, a year after implementing what were meant to be tough new standards.

That was the general consensus of the State Board of Education days after teacher evaluation data were released last week. Of 50,000 public school teachers graded by their principals, less than one-half of 1 percent were deemed “ineffective.”

Almost everyone else — 97 percent — was considered good or good enough.

“Clearly the system failed,” said board member Gordon Hendry, before calling for a new way to get more accurate results.

Much of the criticism focused on the law that mandated a new evaluation system. It was meant to tie teacher pay to performance rather than tenure — a sweeping change for Indiana. But, as in the past, the law let local school districts pick their own rating models.

As a result, weight given to student test scores or the observations of principals ranged wildly. Some districts gave most teachers the highest mark of “highly effective.” Almost two-dozen districts couldn’t find a single teacher who fit into that category.

Joe Gramelspacher isn’t an education policy maker but a teacher who’s given evaluation systems a lot of thought. An Indianapolis native, he started his career in a Colorado district that helped pioneer the idea of performance pay.

Missing from Indiana’s metrics and most models, he argues, are the opinions of students.

“No one spends more time watching teachers at work than their students,” said Gramelspacher, who majored in economics at Indiana University and came to teaching through the Teach for America program. “Who’s in a better position to evaluate how we’re doing?”

Gramelspacher, who works at an inner-city Indianapolis school, is borrowing on work done by Harvard University economist Ronald Ferguson.

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