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Evaluations helping teachers grow

When teachers succeed, our students succeed. Research tells us that an effective teacher is the most important school-based factor in a student’s academic success. Knowing this, Indiana set out to find a system that supports our teachers.

We did this by engaging stakeholders in a number of ways in the two years leading up to the passage of new laws in 2011. In fact, many of the components of the law are the direct result of suggestions directly from teachers and teachers’ union representatives.

Indiana allows school corporations flexibility when selecting the evaluation tool that is best for their staff and students. As long as the evaluation meets the basic guidelines outlined in state law, local administrators may create their own tool or choose an existing evaluation tool, such as Indiana’s RISE model or a nationally recognized tool such as TAP or McREL.

The Indiana Department of Education just completed a year-long statewide teacher evaluation pilot involving six school corporations. Bloomfield School District, Greensburg Community Schools and Fort Wayne Community Schools piloted the state’s evaluation tool, called RISE. The other three corporations piloted alternative tools – Beech Grove City Schools piloted TAP, Bremen Public Schools piloted McREL and MSD Warren Township piloted a locally created tool.

Beginning this school year, every school corporation will implement an educator evaluation tool, just as the six pilot corporations did. The goal of teacher evaluations should be to uplift teachers at all levels, helping everyone improve. Without quality evaluations, struggling teachers do not receive the support they need and the teachers driving the most success are not recognized.

Teachers, like all of us, are lifelong learners, and even the best deserve opportunities to improve. Professionals in many lines of work expect and receive regular performance evaluations, and it is no different in education. Teachers at all levels deserve regular feedback to inform their instruction.

These evaluations should tie professional development to evaluation feedback so all teachers can continue learning how to reach their students more effectively.

Based on my classroom visits throughout the state, I can absolutely say there is a positive culture shift taking place in our schools.

Indiana’s teachers are reporting an increase in collaboration and positive conversations surrounding student learning.

Principals are focusing more of their efforts on developing and supporting their teaching staff. They are in classrooms more than ever, and teachers value them as a resource.

This is exactly the shift we were hoping to see, and I know many educators are encouraged by the changes.

Eileen McGinley, a fifth grade teacher in Warren Township, said it best in a recent letter to the Indianapolis Star:

“My goal is the same as many teachers – to be an exceptional educator. I am relieved there is a system in place now that provides coaching and feedback to accomplish my objective. I am thankful there is now a sense of accountability and data to support what I do all day. I believe the new evaluation system is beneficial for the students, teachers and the profession.”

I am confident Indiana’s educators have what it takes to lead our next generation to success.

Now let’s all pledge to support our talented educators in this most important work because every child deserves to learn – and can learn – with the aid of an exceptional teacher in the classroom.

Tony Bennett is Indiana superintendent of public instruction. He wrote this for Indiana newspapers.