The basics of education in Indiana

The basics of teacher evaluation in Indiana, part 2: Ratings formulas and merit pay

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
The Indiana State Board of Education held off on major changes to teacher evaluation today.

(This story is one in a series exploring the basics of key issues in education in Indiana. For a list of the issues and links to the other stories in the series, go here. For the first part of this entry on teacher evaluation, go here.)

Evaluation and rating of teachers under Indiana’s 2011 law requires teacher raises to be tied to student test scores and other factors.

But how it actually works for teachers depends on what they teach and where they work.

Indiana’s system is very wide open with lots districts doing things differently. The law gives local districts significant freedom to create their own systems so long as they stay within basic parameters. Unlike in other states, Indiana does not dictate exactly how teachers must be rated. Some features are set in state law, including the fact that ratings must determine teachers’ raises.

Here are the basic features of the law that lead to pay raises:


In-person observation of each teacher in the classroom is expected by the law, but how much observation is up to each district.

In most cases, teachers are being observed more than in the past. The original state model system, RISE, called for two long observations of at least 40 minutes and three short observations of about 10 minutes, as an example. But some districts have created systems with as many as 20 observations a year.

Student test score growth

The law requires that student gains on standardized tests be a “significant” factor in a teacher’s rating, but does not  set a specific percentage of the score that must be based on test scores, as is common in other states.

For teachers in grades that take state tests — grades 3 to 8 take Indiana’s ISTEP exams in reading and math and 10th graders take end-of-course tests in English and Algebra — test score growth is judged using student results on those tests. For teachers who don’t teach tested grades or subjects, districts must determine alternate means of judging student growth.

Ratings score

Each teacher’s effectiveness is calculated based on their observation and test score growth on a 1 to 4 scale:

4 = Highly effective
3 = Effective
2 = Improvement necessary
1 = Ineffective

Those rated a 1, or ineffective, can be fired under the law. Those rated a 2, or in need of improvement, can be fired if they fail to reach at least a rating of 3 by the next year. Districts also can choose not to give raises to teachers with ratings below 3.

Years of experience and education level

Pay raises for educators have traditionally been based heavily on the years of experience and degrees attained by the teachers. Those factors can still be part of the new systems for awarding pay raises under the 2011 law, but teachers’ ratings must now also be a determinant.

Districts may consider additional factors when awarding raises, such as a teacher’s leadership in the school, attendance and community involvement.

Guidance from the state for how to connect evaluation to pay has evolved since a change in state superintendent. Former Superintendent Tony Bennett urged districts to weigh teacher performance between 50 and 100 percent of their raise, even though the law allows it to be as low as zero. Glenda Ritz, who took the superintendency after defeating Bennett in the 2012 election, has said that should be entirely a local decision.

One example

How exactly a ratings score, and other factors, are translated into a raise each year will vary considerably, as each district can create its own system and must negotiate how pay raises work with its teachers union. And unions have advocated for systems that stay relatively true to the old pay systems that were based mostly on a teacher’s years of experience and educational attainment.

Some of the new systems, despite the serious overhaul in evaluation, are not dramatically changing the way teachers are paid. For example, here’s how Wayne Township schools in Indianapolis devised their system.

A teacher can earn up to 108 points in five areas:

Evaluation score: Teachers earn two points for an “effective” rating and three points for “highly effective.” This score is calculated with 80 percent based on observations and 20 percent on student test score growth.

Years of experience: Teachers can earn 1 point for every year of experience.

Degrees attained: Teachers with masters degrees earn 1 point. Those without an advanced degree can earn the point for earning credits toward a degree, certification or professional growth.

Leadership: Teachers can earn 1 point for demonstrating leadership in their schools, such as through national recognition, serving on committees or volunteering as a coach or tutor.

Attendance: Teachers with 97 percent attendance or better earn 1 point.

Salary Schedule: The bottom of Wayne’s scale is $40,306 and the top is $80,035. Teachers enter the new system with points based on where they stood in the old salary scale. A teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 13 years experience starts with 72 points. A teacher with a masters degree and 17 years starts at 108 points.

On the new scale every 18 points a teacher earns can raise their minimum pay by about $6,000.

 -Updated December 2015


After almost 10 years of changes to Indiana classrooms, ESSA’s headed your way. Here’s what you should know about the new federal law.

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Students in IPS School 91's multi-age first-, second- and third-grade classroom work on math activities.

This year, Indiana education officials are focused on shifting education policy to comply with the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which Congress passed in late 2015.

But given Indiana’s history, ESSA is likely to be just the latest in a long line of education policy changes.

What started with a new schools chief focused on shaking things up in 2008 turned into major legislative changes that gave Indiana its oft-cited charter school and voucher programs in 2011.

Around the same time, Common Core standards burst on the scene, highlighting Indiana once again as an early adopter and — just a few years later — as one of the first states to jump ship. Battles over replacing ISTEP ramped up in late 2015, followed in rapid succession by an election resulting in a new governor and an upset in the race for state superintendent.

Throw ESSA into the mix, and it’s safe to say the last decade of Indiana education policy has been tumultuous. What does this new law mean for Indiana? We answer some of those questions below.

Where did ESSA come from?

U.S. lawmakers passed the newest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in late 2015 to replace the controversial No Child Left Behind Act.

The goal, in part, was to remedy a number of complaints around NCLB. State and federal officials have talked up how ESSA is supposed to give states more autonomy and remove NCLB’s rigid performance goals.

Advocates hope ESSA will bring more attention to the country’s neediest children and those most likely to be overlooked — including English-learners and students with disabilities.

What does ESSA mean for testing?

As it turns out, not that much — most of Indiana’s testing changes come down from the state, not the feds.

Indiana’s ISTEP test would have fulfilled most of the federal requirements, but the state trashed ISTEP earlier this spring in favor of a new test (still in the works) that will be given for the first time in 2019 — “ILEARN.”

For elementary and middle school students, ILEARN will be “computer-adaptive,” and adjust difficulty based on students’ answers. In high school, students would be expected to pass end-of-course assessments in Algebra, ninth-grade biology, 10th-grade English and 12th-grade U.S. Government.

The state’s plan also includes a chance to pursue giving state tests in other languages. So far, Spanish would be the focus.

How does this affect A-F grades?

Congress passing the Every Student Succeeds Act collided almost directly with Indiana’s overhauled A-F grade model, used for the first time in 2016.

Although the new model checks many boxes when it comes to new ESSA requirements, there’s still work that needs to be done.

Indiana’s new A-F model replaces one that centered primarily around ISTEP test scores. A-F grades still factor in test scores higher than other measures, but they no longer reflect just test passing rates. How students improve on tests from year to year is also included and weighted equally with passing rates.

Beginning this school year, A-F grades will include these measures (see weights here):

  • Academic achievement in the form of state test scores.
  • Test score improvement.
  • Graduation rate and a measure of “college and career readiness” for high schools.
  • Academic progress of English-language learners, measured by the WIDA test.
  • At least one aspect of school quality. For now, that will be chronic absenteeism, but the state hopes to pursue student and teacher surveys.

The last two are new to Indiana, but represent ESSA’s goal of being more inclusive and attempting to value other measures that aren’t test scores.

What about low-performing schools?

So the timeline doesn’t change — public schools can still only get four Fs in a row before the state steps in. But once they do, that’s where the process differs starting in 2018-19.

Going forward, two new categories will replace priority schools and focus schools. Two new ones will be introduced: “targeted support” and “comprehensive support.”

At schools receiving targeted support, certain groups of students — ethnic groups, English learners, low-income students or students with disabilities — would score in the bottom 5 percent of state test-takers for at least two years in a row.

Comprehensive support is similar to what are now priority schools — those that fall in the bottom 5 percent of passing state tests; any school that receives an F grade; or any high school where the four-year graduation rate is lower than 67 percent.

If a school gets a C grade or better for two years in a row, it is no longer categorized as needing comprehensive support. Schools in targeted support have five years to earn two consecutive C grades.

Doesn’t the graduation rate change, too?

Unfortunately, yes.

As early as fall of 2018, the general diploma could cease to count in the graduation rate the state is now required to report to the federal government.

The federal calculation will likely cause rates to drop and school A-F grades to take a hit because general diploma students students would no longer be considered graduates to the feds.

Students can still earn a general diploma — it just can’t factor into state accountability grades. ESSA requires states to count graduates that earn the diploma that a majority of students get or one that is more rigorous, but not one that is less.

What happens next?

There are still some major questions lingering over how the new A-F grade components will play out next year, particularly when it comes to dual credit classes and changes to graduation rate.

Those issues won’t get solved right away, if only because the Indiana State Board of Education must officially approve any A-F grade system changes, which won’t happen until after the ESSA draft plan is completed.

The plan must be submitted to federal education officials in September. First it gets a review from the governor, who can choose to endorse it or not — no formal approval is required.

Read more of Indiana’s ESSA coverage here.


The basics of...

The basics of Jennifer McCormick: Political newcomer struggles to set herself apart

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Jennifer McCormick speaks during a 2016 campaign event.

This is one of two stories summarizing the basics facts about Indiana’s two major party candidates for state superintendent. A more detailed story about Jennifer McCormick’s policy positions can be found here. To learn more about Glenda Ritz, go here. To see all of Chalkbeat’s “basics” stories, go here. To read all of Chalkbeat’s 2016 election coverage, go here.

Tune in to our live blog on Election Day for highlights from the field and updates on the races as results trickle in.

As the political newcomer to this year’s race for Indiana state superintendent, Republican Jennifer McCormick has had to spend a lot of time telling voters who she isn’t.

She isn’t Glenda Ritz, she’s said, emphasizing that as a former teacher and principal who has spent the last 12 years as a top administrator in the Yorktown school district, she has experience as a steady, organized manager that she says Ritz lacks.

And she says she isn’t Tony Bennett, the education reform-darling who lost in a huge upset to Ritz in 2012, either.

In fact, McCormick falls somewhere between the two: She’s a career public school educator and district leader with policies not entirely unlike Ritz’s. But she also has the backing of the Republican party and advocates who’ve pushed to expand charter schools and private school vouchers.

Although McCormick has been more supportive of charter schools and vouchers than Ritz has been, the Yorktown superintendent says she’s concerned about the way school choice efforts divert money from public schools and vehemently denies suggestions that she would want to see them expand.

On the campaign trail, McCormick has tried to steer the conversation away from controversial policy matters toward what she sees as her strong suit: Her years of leadership running schools and districts.

The New Castle native has spent her career in Yorktown, a traditional public school district in northeastern Indiana that enrolls about 2,500 students K-12. Her school district is wealthier, whiter and faces few of the challenges that confront urban and rural districts across the state.

Yorktown school board president Tom Simpson said McCormick has worked to provide more computers and tablets to students and has made a point of ensuring that teachers are trained to use and teach with the devices. She’s also worked over the years to help the district adapt to its growing population.

How she’ll govern

It’s still not clear what kind of relationship McCormick would have with lawmakers if elected. Although her policies don’t necessarily line up with those of Republican legislative leaders, the fact that she brings none of Ritz’s baggage after four years of clashes with Republican Gov. Mike Pence could ease tensions and lead to smoother working relationships.

But McCormick’s lack of policy experience and adamant statements that she won’t engage in “politics” could also mean she underestimates the work needed guide her vision through the sometimes-thorny Indiana legislature.

Plus, should both she and John Gregg, the Democrat running for governor, prevail, there’d once again be a political division between the state’s top education leader and top executive, who is responsible for appointing the majority of members to the state board of education.

On the issues

McCormick’s positions on many state education issues are similar to those of her opponent. She largely agrees with Ritz on the need for an A-F grade overhaul, more school funding, and adding support and pay for teachers.

Here’s a rundown of her positions:

Vouchers. McCormick said while she supports the power of parents to choose the best school for their children, she’s not interested in expanding programs that divert money from public schools.

Testing. While Ritz has called for a new kind of test that would be given to students in chunks throughout the year and provide feedback to teachers, McCormick said she would be in favor of adopting the SAT, or something like it, for high school students and keeping a simple, ISTEP-like test for elementary and middle school students.

Preschool. While Ritz has campaigned strongly for a “universal” preschool plan for all Indiana four year-olds, funded with what she anticipates would be $150 million per year from the state’s budget, plus federal and private grants, McCormick has called for a more conservative approach — at least at first. She says the state should prioritize students who are struggling or from low-income families rather than offer pre-K to kids with more resources.