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Column: Should teacher evaluation be tied to student ability?

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Evaluation results are in on 90 percent of Indiana teachers, and there is good news and bad news.

First, the good news. About 88 percent were rated as either “effective” or “highly effective.” Only about 2 percent were reported needing improvement, and less than .5 percent were deemed “ineffective.”

Now, the bad news. About 88 percent were rated as either “effective” or “highly effective.” About 2 percent were reported needing improvement, and less than 0.5 percent were deemed “ineffective.”


Facts are funny things. They mean different things to different people.

At first glance, the evaluation results would seem to call for celebrations around the state. What wonderful teachers we have!

But you can cancel the cake and party hats. Some state legislators and pundits view the numbers with skepticism. This can’t be right, they say. Just look at how many schools have received D and F ratings in student performance. Education experts call the results unrealistic.

“Unrealistic” might better describe the expectations placed upon teachers these days.

As an educator for the past four decades, I am not surprised by the evaluation results. I have taught with hundreds of teachers over the years, and my own experience tells me that at least 88 percent of those teachers were effective. Yes, many of them I would easily rate as “highly effective.”

Those critical of the report cite an inconsistency in rating systems from school to school. That may be true, but I contend that any thoughtful measurement of teacher quality will come up with about the same results.

The fact is that Indiana teachers are paddling as fast as they can in choppy waters.

Amid a maelstrom of changing standards, fuzzy goals, and relentless testing, teachers carry on bravely day-to-day in their classrooms, trying their best to make a difference in young lives.

It is not surprising that so many teachers today are faring well at evaluation time. College education classes are providing more practical training and on-the-job experience. Young teachers, especially, are better than ever. With the current economy and a surplus of candidates in many fields, they had plenty of competition in landing their jobs.

Don’t get me wrong. As in any profession, there are teachers who don’t make the grade. But the vast majority are caring and committed to doing their best for their students. There are poor doctors and awful attorneys, but a general

survey of those professions would likely find that the large majority of them are “effective or highly effective.”

Yes, some schools are getting low grades in student performance. But it is hard to track a direct correlation between teacher effectiveness and student success. Too many things get in the way.

Most of the these things have to do with the fact that students are human. Some lug weighty baggage into class.

Poor parenting, inadequate nutrition, transient lifestyle, lack of discipline, learning disabilities and a variety of other issues make it difficult for even the best teachers to do their jobs well.

All teachers can do is try to reach as many students as they can, in as many ways as they can, with as much love and compassion as they can muster each day. If the evaluators were looking for these qualities, it should be no surprise that nearly all Indiana teachers are measuring up. No kidding. The results are real.

Good news, indeed.

James H. Johnson is a retired teacher who lives in Greenwood. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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