14 News Special Report: Testing Teachers - 14 News, WFIE, Evansville, Henderson, Owensboro

14 News Special Report: Testing Teachers

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Thousands of teachers are going under the microscope in the state's new teacher evaluation mandate.
It's meant to hold teachers accountable for student performance, but it's raising questions about whether ranking teachers leads to better students.

In the new law, teachers are ranked into four categories: Ineffective, improvement necessary, effective, and highly effective…

Those results directly affect their pay and possibly their employment. That's fueling speculation from educators that this program could favor newer, less experienced teachers who are cheaper and push out those who have been teaching for decades.

"It is not in the best interest of students to gut the experience level in the classroom," Dan Hartz. 

When asked if this system could favor certain teachers over others, Hartz said, " I think it will be a dark period in the historical perspective in education." 

Dan Hartz, with the Indiana State Teachers' Association in Evansville, says the state's new education mandates could cause a "mass exodus" of the state's best and brightest teachers.

"You're left with little experience. They're gutting it at the top and you're not growing it from the bottom," Hartz said.

The state-wide mandate went into effect this year. At North Gibson, the school corporation is implementing RISE, the state's model evaluation program.

Assistant Superintendent Eric Goggins says he spends one to two hours each day to meet the state's new requirements.

"We choose not to focus on that negative side of, it's a mandate. We're going to focus on, it's here and we're going to make the best of it and it's likely not going to go anywhere," Goggins said. 

The change in Indiana code has stirred controversy. It was championed by State Superintendent Tony Bennett and approved by lawmakers last year.

It ties teacher pay directly to their students' success, with only effective and highly effective ranked educators qualifying for a potential raise. Something EVSC Superintendent David Smith says could be felt in the classroom for years to come.

"My concern is that the quality of teaching we see ten years from now may be less than what we have now because there is an absence or a lack of individuals going into the teaching profession," Smith said.

According to the National Commission on Teachers and America's Future, nearly 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession within their first five years. Some fear the new mandated evaluations could push that number even higher.

"It's really tough to support a family on just a beginning teacher's salary. So, there's going to be a churn, there's going to be a constant turnover of young teachers," John Spradley said. 

John Spradley is a teacher with South Gibson Schools, which began the mandated evaluations a year early. He says South Gibson needed an evaluation system, but he's seen little effect on student's themselves.

"It is just the black hole of time for teachers. Nothing in the RISE is going to affect students in my classroom," Spradley said.

The student growth portion of teachers' evaluations is based largely on how well students do year to year on standardized tests, but teachers say variables outside the classroom can affect a students' performance, which isn't taken into account in their final ranking.

"This is not a fair situation because that test is a test of basic skills and we go above and beyond. We want our kids to become critical thinkers, not just to answer a test," said. Micheal Galvin, Principal of Fort Branch Community School. 

When Spradley was asked if ten years from now,students will have the same level of education, he said, "In this corporation, absolutely, yes."

And in Indiana as a whole?

"No," Spradley said. 

A survey released last month by the Lafayette Journal and Courier finds applications to Indiana's Teacher Colleges have hit their lowest level in five years.

14 News contacted State Superintendent Tony Bennett's office, and they sent us this statement:

"Indiana's teacher evaluation law has one main goal, which is to support educators by ensuring they are provided the tools necessary to foster continual professional growth and improvement. All students deserve to learn from a great teacher, and we are committed to making that a reality."

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