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The real conversation around “hold harmless” when it comes to teacher evaluation

The Governor of Indiana has on his desk legislation that allows teachers and schools to be shielded from penalties from last year’s poor statewide standardized test scores.

“Hold harmless” legislation (SB 2) was sent to the governor’s desk Monday. It is expected it will be signed with support from the Governor, the House and Senate leadership, and the Department of Education.

What is forgotten in all this discussion is the opportunity to shift the focus of teacher and administrator evaluations back to a growth exercise based upon pedagogy and not one that focuses on the impact of standardized testing on potential pay increases and job security.  When Indiana rolled out a more strenuous educator effectiveness requirement in 2011, there was a sentiment that this was being “done” to teachers and administrators.

All political aspects aside, the basis of a more formal feedback system was designed to improve instruction and student outcomes.  Unfortunately, there have been unintended consequences from this rollout.  We have seen the education field being viewed negatively, less students enrolling in teacher prep programs, and a wave of educators leaving the profession. The enrollment in teacher preparation programs nationwide has declined by more than one-third since 2010. In a recent analysis of teacher prep program data by The Center for American Progress collected from HEA Title II reporting, Indiana educator prep programs had enrollment declines of 50% from 2010-2018. Additionally, Indiana had a decline in students completing the educator prep program by more than 25% during this same time period.

It is critical that we change the focus of this conversation to authentic and meaningful feedback. We face a crucial time for our states and country in developing young adults that can leave the PK-12 environment and be productive citizens as they enter the workforce, post-secondary schooling, and specialized credentialing. This will not be possible without quality educators fostering and guiding their growth and ability to learn how to learn.

A recent study led by Dianna Whitlock, Ed.D. on teacher evaluation in Indiana found that a cohort group of teachers that received constant feedback for 3 continuous years at the same school district performed at a higher rate than those who had received the same feedback system for less time. Additionally, those in the cohort group demonstrated growth and improvement of their ratings over this three-year span.

It is time that we quit worrying about giving a teacher or administrator a needs improvement mark on maximizing instructional time or student engagement. We must give feedback that is true, authentic and that is followed-up with resources to grow. When we have principals or superintendents say they cannot give that physics teacher, who may be difficult to replace, a less than effective rating that will deny them a raise for fear that they will leave, we have a problem in giving constructive feedback.   

Currently, we are facing a teacher shortage.  We must develop and retain teachers by giving them support to get better, identify early challenges that beginning teachers are facing, and give them targeted professional development opportunities to be successful. Administrators must develop less than effective teachers and support their growth locally, as there may not be a replacement available. This is no longer a dismissal process – this is a growth process.  It is costly to replace teachers regardless if you are in an urban, rural, or suburban area. It is time to step up and give authentic feedback to drive growth. 

As a profession, we need to move data to development. The data should drive individual growth plans for teachers, buildings, and districts, and be utilized for on-boarding programs, mentoring, and best practice programs to spur engagement and retention.

A mark on one evaluation that is less than effective does not make that teacher ineffective, it starts the discussion on how to get better.  Most of the educators in the field are there because they genuinely care about kids.  It is time we focus on giving them the feedback to help them grow so we can all help strive for Better Teachers, Better Students, and a Better World.

Todd Whitlock is one of the co-founders and CEO of Standard For Success.  He has presented at national and state conferences on teacher evaluation as well as being honored as a Techpoint Foundation Mira award winner for contributions to K12, Mira Bridgebuilder award winner, and NSBA 20 to Watch educator. Todd holds teaching and building and district level administrative licenses and served in public education for 20 years. Standard For Success currently houses over 50% of the Indiana educators in their online educator evaluation platform while serving over 400 districts across 20 states and provinces in the United States and Canada.

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