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$33M in Ga. Race to the Top funding at risk

Teacher evaluation changes put money in jeopardy

POSTED: July 8, 2012 11:30 p.m.

A portion of Georgia’s $400 million Race to the Top school grant has been labeled as “high risk” by the U.S. Department of Education.

In a letter to Gov. Nathan Deal, the federal department said more than $33 million could be withheld because of proposed changes to the state’s new teacher evaluation system.

“The Department is concerned about the overall strategic planning, evaluation, and project management for that system, which includes decisions regarding the quality of the tools and measures used during the educator evaluation pilot and the scalability of the supports the state offered to participating districts,” wrote Ann Whalen, director of the policy and program implementation and support unit for the federal department.

Since the federal approval of the original plan last July, Georgia has requested three “major amendments,” including changing how student surveys are used to evaluate teachers.

State officials are looking at scrapping evaluations by kindergarten to second-grade students, arguing that ratings by children so young would likely be positive and not reliable. They also want surveys by older students to be informational and to not count as 10 percent of a teacher’s formal evaluation, as originally planned.

Federal officials said Georgia must submit a revised plan by Aug. 1, addressing timelines, implementation and how data and feedback from educators will be used for changes before full implementation in the 2013-14 school year.

“I don’t think it’s unusual for U.S. DOE to step in and say: ‘Wait a minute, where’s the research base for this?’ or ‘This isn’t the timeline we agreed to,’” said Will Schofield, Hall County Schools superintendent.

But he expects Georgia to work with the federal department to not lose out on any money.

“I would certainly think Georgia would (get into compliance) so they don’t lose the $30-40 million,” Schofield said.

Merrianne Dyer, Gainesville City Schools superintendent, said she expects Georgia to do the same.

“We would all lose our portion of the funds (if Georgia was not compliant),” she said. “But I’m sure we’ll remediate and do what we have to do to receive the money.”

Both systems were among the 26 that piloted the program earlier this year.

Schofield said there was a good response from the evaluation system, which takes into consideration more than just in-class observation.

“When you talk about what the portion of (the $33 million) is Hall County’s, it’s probably not a lot of money,” Schofield said. “I think what I’d be much more concerned about is the principals and I are very encouraged by what we’re seeing with the potential of the new evaluation instrument. I just hope we stay true to it.”

The original system proposed teachers be evaluated under four categories: class observation, student surveys, test scores and narrowing of achievement gaps.

Georgia wants to change how it calculates the surveys and how to make the test scores equitable for teachers across various subjects.

The federal department essentially wants Georgia to stick with the original plan or provide more information as to why it wants to amend some areas.

The federal department also feels that Georgia has jumped the gun with some changes without having all the details from the pilots.

Dyer said she expects Gainesville schools to use the system next year for a growth model and teachers can opt into the compensation portion if they choose. For teachers who demonstrate high evaluations, money has been set aside for bonuses.

Money will not be taken from salaries for poor performance, nor will the system be used for hiring or firing.

Schofield said the new system is effective in giving feedback for productive teachers.

“Everything that I’ve seen in 26 years has fallen short in terms of giving effective teachers solid feedback on how they might improve,” he said. “So far, we like what we see and I assume Georgia will do what it takes to get back into compliance.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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