Conversations regarding the new evaluation process in Indiana have changed dramatically over the past few years. Recently, a group of 4 educators met at a local diner in small town Indiana to discuss the changes and enjoy breakfast.
- Laura Burpo (Oatmeal and Rye Toast) is in her second year as a social studies teacher at Emmerich Manual High School in Indianapolis. Manual is one of the take-over schools currently being operated by Charter Schools USA. Laura has demonstrated building level leadership acumen in a short time. She has also been acknowledged as a teacher who makes a difference in a challenging climate, being named her location’s “Teacher of the Year.”
- Jane Newblom (Egg White Omelet and Orange Juice) is in her second year as principal of Sheridan High School in Sheridan, Indiana. As a teacher Jane was runner-up for Indiana Teacher of the Year and also received accolades for her work as an assistant principal. Jane has dramatically changed the learning culture of the high school she serves by encouraging teachers to frequently assess student growth and make informed instructional changes based on the data.
- Keith Ecker (Western Omelet and Black Coffee) has served as the principal of Hamilton Heights Primary School for 12 years. Keith is recognized as a role model for elementary school leadership. His quiet, yet directed leadership style helps teachers focus on student data while not forgetting to focus on the student.
- Derek Arrowood (Biscuits and Gravy) is in his first year as the superintendent at Hamilton Heights School Corporation and eighth year as a superintendent.
All four of the educators are avid David Letterman fans and compiled this list of the “Top Ten Ways the Evaluation Conversation in Indiana has Changed.”
- Frequency. Laura was shocked to learn that prior evaluation systems only required formal evaluations for veteran teachers as infrequently as every third year. She has been observed 10 times in two years at Manual. Derek wasn’t observed 10 times in his four years in the classroom.
- Teacher input. The goal-setting system in place at all three districts gives teachers an opportunity to have input on what their focus will be for the year. The assessments used to gather data and analyze the goals may be limited in some cases, but teachers in these three systems have shared that they appreciate the opportunity to develop those focus areas based on their own data analysis.
- Student data. The fear of teacher failure based on the accomplishments of students between the ages of 5-18 on a standardized test is appropriately frightening. Jane shared that the high school teachers take much more ownership of their student data from start to finish of the year than in years past. These same teachers are also quick to express concern over student preparedness coming into a class. Keith shared that this is also a concern at the primary level. Teachers are expected to hold accountability for student knowledge that they weren’t around to teach. Laura shared that the high level of mobility of her students makes it difficult to create a static targeted group to assess for progress.
- Veteran teachers being highly effective, or not. Both Keith and Jane felt that veteran teachers especially over-emphasized the value of a “highly effective” vs. an “effective” rating. In the Hamilton Heights school system, teachers in both categories received the same merit pay. While in the Sheridan school system, both of these ratings allowed for promotion on the state-approved pay schedule. While teachers focused on ratings, the principals focused on gathering information to help the teacher become a better instructor. This disconnect was noticed as a flaw in point-of-view rather than flaw in the system. Laura shared that as a beginning teacher, her primary goal was job retention and that being rated highly effective was rewarding. What she valued most was administrative advice on how to better reach her students.
- Teacher leadership. This category was noted as one that a teacher truly has control over. Young teachers like Laura can show evidence of taking leadership opportunities and growing as an educator because of those opportunities. Both Keith and Jane encourage teachers to continually show evidence of leadership actions within and outside of their classroom.
- Rubric guides. Teachers understood expectations based on the clear and concise rubrics being used for observations and final evaluations. In several shared stories, teachers took one of the multiple observation opportunities to demonstrate a specific rubric benchmark. This level of lesson plan in relation to the evaluation system would have been unheard of a decade ago.
- Transparency. Both Hamilton Heights and Sheridan use a web-based tool called Standard for Success for observations and evaluation finalization. This tool makes the entire process very transparent for teachers. Almost immediately, teachers can see what the observer has commented on in order to be prepared to discuss in the post-observation conference. This has allowed teachers to better answer the questions that inevitably occur during post-observation conferences.
- Attendance. Teachers in both systems have discussed guidelines for what appropriate levels of attendance should be for teachers. The expectations of student attendance have been made clear for years as well as the consequences for lack of attendance. Conversations are taking place regarding an appropriate expectation of teacher attendance. This subject was taboo several years ago but at least now it is a part of the conversation.
- Open door policy. Laura is not surprised to see her principal walk into her classroom unannounced with his iPad to complete an observation. Jane and Keith shared that this type of visit may have been construed as a distraction for teachers in previous years, but is now the norm.
- Professional development matters. Teachers are now focusing on specific professional development that will help them improve areas specific to their evaluation document. Training is now sought out to help teachers improve the evaluation process and focus on areas that the evaluator will acknowledge as evidence of growth.
The company is always better than the meal. This breakfast in small town Indiana in the late Spring of 2014 was no different. From the point of view of an early career classroom teacher to the experience of a veteran elementary principal, the conversations about the evaluation process have clearly changed. The goal of the evaluation process has always been to improve instruction. The difference is that some of the conversations that now occur daily were just being briefly touched on five years ago.
- Laura Burpo, Social Studies Teacher (Emmerich Manual High School, Indianapolis)
- Jane Newblom, Principal (Sheridan High School, Sheridan, Indiana)
- Keith Ecker, Principal (Hamilton Heights Primary School, Arcadia, Indiana)
- Derek Arrowood, Superintendent (Hamilton Heights School Corporation)