Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Opinion

April 11, 2014

What should we measure?

Conventional wisdom at the Indiana Statehouse seems to be that public schools are failing because of bad teachers and their powerful unions.

That’s why so many lawmakers criticized Monday’s first-ever release of Indiana educator evaluations. Almost 92 percent of teachers in Howard, Miami and Tipton counties received “highly effective” or “effective” ratings from their employers after the 2012-13 school year. Statewide, 87 percent of educators earned such rankings.

Currently, schools choose their own evaluation model. State Rep. Bob Behning, R-Noblesville, one of the authors of the 2011 education evaluation reform law, said Monday data from the state Department of Education demonstrates the need to make those evaluations uniform.

Frankly, that’s not the answer. Teachers, for the most part, are stuck playing the hand they’ve been dealt, and that sometimes means trying to engage youngsters who come to school far from ready to learn.

These kids sometimes come from homes where what happened in school that day is the last thing on anyone’s mind. They might be a lot more worried about when they’re going to have their next meal than about any homework assignments.

Children who get themselves dressed and off to school every morning are a whole lot less likely to do well on tests than those whose parents check their homework and make sure they get plenty of sleep and a healthy breakfast before heading off to school.

Education reformers argue Indiana now has a system that will reward teachers based on merit. The problem is coming up with an adequate measuring stick. They believe, based on Monday’s results, that allowing schools to choose their own measurement of effectiveness just isn’t effective.

If lawmakers demand a uniform evaluation tool, the state needs to find one that measures the progress of individual students. Rather than comparing last year’s third-graders to this year’s third-graders, the state needs to judge the way each student is performing now compared to how that student performed a year ago.

That is, after all, what we’re trying to measure, right? How much did the teacher really teach?

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