State Test Scores Will No Longer Be Required When Evaluating Indiana Teachers
By Hope Shrum
INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana schools are no longer required by law to use state test scores when annually evaluating teacher performances.
The new law, House Enrolled Act 1002, went into effect July 1 and marks a significant departure from past mandates on how teachers should be evaluated.
In 2011, Indiana lawmakers joined in a national education reform movement and implemented a new policy that ordered test scores to make up a significant portion of teacher evaluations. Some argued the 2011 change put more pressure on educators to teach to the test.
After the policy changes in 2011, the Indiana Department of Education released an evaluation rubric that districts could use, though it wasn’t required. This rubric noted math and English Language Arts teachers in fourth through eighth grade would have 20% or 35% of their evaluations based on their students’ test scores.
During the 2020 legislative session, the Indiana General Assembly reviewed this rule and determined schools should not have to build their teacher evaluation plans around tests. But districts can choose to keep them as part of teacher assessments if they choose.
This new teacher evaluation legislation arrived after a teacher shortage that’s lasted several years in Indiana and amid ongoing concerns about whether low state test scores accurately reflect students’ knowledge. Both challenges, over time, led to strained support for the 2011 policy.
Education advocates argued the 2011 law was detrimental for teachers, whose pay is tied to whether they earn a top rating when evaluated.
Educators have argued that state test scores aren’t a fair way to judge a teacher’s effectiveness because it has been shown that outside factors such as race and poverty have an effect on test scores as well.
Students in the third through eighth grade take both the math and English Language Arts portions of the state’s new ILEARN test. After only one-third of them passed both portions in 2019, lawmakers decided in February to not hold schools accountable for the low scores for two years in an effort to protect teachers and their schools.
The low scores could have negatively affected a school’s overall letter grade rating by the state, for example, which would have impacted teacher evaluations, and ultimately, their pay.
Now that teacher evaluations do not have to legally be affected by test scores, districts can create new evaluation templates that are primarily based on principals’ observations and teachers’ progress toward meeting yearly goals set by their schools.
House Enrolled Act 1002 passed through the House of Representatives unanimously, and when the legislation was read to the Senate, only Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn voted against it.
Kruse authored the 2011 law that originally changed how teachers are evaluated. He declined an interview request to explain why he opposed the new legislation.
While Kruse was the only state senator to not approve the law, he is not alone in opposing it. Groups including the National Council on Teacher Quality, or NCTQ, have opposed the legislation since it was introduced in January.
The organization stands by the idea that standardized tests offer an objective way to measure student learning and therefore increase the validity of formal teacher evaluations.
In an email statement, NCTQ President Kate Walsh said HEA 1002 walks away from almost a decade of progress the state’s schools and districts have made to improve teacher quality.
“Removing the requirement to consider objective measures of student learning in teacher evaluations is a step backward for Indiana’s teachers and students,” Walsh said.
Footnote: Hope Shrum is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.