State school board could approve new teacher-principal evaluation system

Flunked that end-of-course math test? Sleepwalked through the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test?

Starting next school year, that might not be a worry just for students; it could be a problem for their teachers as well.

The state Board of Education could give final approval this week to a new evaluation system for teachers and principals that formally includes the academic performance of students. And those teachers whose students do poorly might face the possible loss of their teaching certification.

The new system, developed after Georgia won a $400 million federal education improvement grant, would be a departure from the way teacher performance is measured now, which is largely through subjective observation by an administrator.

Observation would still account for 50 percent of how teachers are rated, but the academic performance of their students — how much progress they’ve made and how they perform on standardized tests like end-of-course tests and the CRCT — would make up the other half.

Academic performance also would play a role in how assistant principals and principals are rated, as would student attendance rates and the retaining of effective teachers.

Teachers would get one of four ratings: exemplary, proficient, needs development or ineffective. Those who get an ineffective or needs-development rating in two years of any five-year period would not have their teaching certification renewed unless they got additional training or counseling to address their shortcomings.

The new system doesn’t appear to have caused a revolt among educators. Indeed, many in metro Atlanta already have been operating under a pilot version of the system for the past two or three school years.

That’s because 26 school districts, including six in the metro area, agreed to pilot some of the programs Georgia promised to implement when it applied for the $400 million Race to the Top grant. Some districts that are not part of the Race to the Top program in Georgia are also piloting the evaluation system.

If the state school board gives final approval Thursday, all districts in the state would go to the new system this fall.

That would not be bad news, said Susan Thompson, a social studies teacher at Tucker High in DeKalb County, where the new system has been used on a pilot basis for three years.

“It’s easier to have a clear idea of what they expect to see,” Thompson said.

Teachers would be rated on their professional knowledge; instructional planning; instructional strategies; providing individualized content and skills development for students when necessary; choosing valid strategies to assess students; gathering and analyzing information to improve teaching methods and provide feedback to students and parents; having a positive learning environment; maintaining an academically challenging environment; professionalism; and communication.

Assistant principals and principals would be rated on instructional leadership; school climate, planning and assessment; organizational management; human resources management; teacher/staff evaluation; professionalism; and communications/community relations. In each category, the administrator would be ranked on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 being roughly equivalent to ineffective and 4 being similar to exemplary.

Like teachers with an ineffective or needs-improvement rating, administrators with an overall rating of 1 or 2 during two years of any five-year period would lose their teaching certificate if they did not get additional training or counseling.

Observation will account for half of the overall assessment for administrators. Student growth and achievement, based on performance on end-of-course tests, the CRCT and pre- and post-class assessments, will account for the other half.

Erin Robertson, principal at Peeples Elementary in Fayette County, cautioned that it’s not easy to measure a student’s academic growth.

“It has limits,” she said. “Students do not take the same assessment every year they are in school, so there is limited consistency in the assessments that are used to show growth. I would prefer a pre-test and a post-test for every grade level and subject.”

DeKalb teacher Thompson said using test results is a necessary but imperfect way of measuring the effectiveness of educators.

Still, she said, “I still think it’s putting a lot of importance on one test. What if they didn’t get enough rest the night before? What if there is a problem in the home? I do think (test scores) should be a component. I don’t think it should be the only component.”

The new system is markedly different from the one Georgia promised to implement when it applied for the Race to the Top grant. That system would have included a merit pay component tying changes in teacher pay to the academic performance of their students. Student surveys also were to be a formal part of the evaluation process for teachers.

State Superintendent John Barge, who was not in that job when the state applied for the grant, was successful in getting the U.S. Department of Education to agree to allow the student surveys to be for informational purposes only. Barge also has argued that a merit-pay component should be considered only after the reliability and fairness of the new system has been assessed.

Many educators agree with Barge’s stand. “Before you start to impact anybody’s pay, make sure the system can stand up to any concerns people would have about it,” said Sandra Nicholson, who has overseen implementation of the pilot evaluation system in Clayton County.

Officials at the U.S. Department of Education, however, remain unhappy that Georgia is not implementing the system it promised in its grant application and have begun the process of withholding a $10 million portion of the Race to the Top grant.

“From our perspective, a key component of their reform, to think about how you support effective and highly effective educators in front of the classroom, is not being met,” Ann Whalen, director of the federal department’s implementation support unit, said in a recent conference call with reporters. “We’re holding each state accountable to what it committed to.”

By Wayne Washington
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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