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Teacher evaluations take time, offer more feedback

New system combines observations, surveys, test scores to rate educators

POSTED: May 5, 2013 11:59 p.m.

When the new teacher evaluation system first rolled out, there was a lot of apprehension as state leaders talked about tying the evaluations to how teachers are paid.

While that tie is still up in the air, though, schools are getting a much better handle on how the system works — and doesn’t work.

The Teacher Keys Effectiveness System measures teachers a few different ways, including administrator observations, student surveys and students’ performance on tests. The system was implemented this school year after being piloted in both Hall and Gainesville systems as part of their participation in the Race to the Top federal grant program. Teachers are then rated as ineffective, needs improvement, proficient or exemplary.

The biggest concern, school leaders say, is the amount of time it takes to gather all of the information by which to evaluate the teachers.

Administrator observations

One change between this and the old system is that administrators are required to do more observations of the teachers at their school.

Each teacher must receive six observations, with two of those lasting at least 30 minutes. Administrators must also gather documents by which to judge the teachers, like lesson plans and student records. And they must meet with the teachers to discuss the data.

The system evaluates teachers on 10 standards, including things like professional knowledge, instructional planning and communication.

Administrators have reported that the time factor has been the most difficult part, said Priscilla Collins, director of school improvement for Gainesville City Schools.

“It is a time-consuming process,” said Ken Martin, principal at Gainesville Middle School. “... But I do think that this system has some valid indicators and expectations for teachers in the classroom. And that is the critical issue in student education — the teacher and the administrator having a better understanding of the expectation in the classroom.”

All of those observations and the feedback can be very helpful to a new teacher, but may not be as necessary for some veteran teachers, said Brant Glover, a social studies teacher in his seventh year at Gainesville Middle School.

“If a person is new into teaching, I think it might be more appropriate to have that many,” Glover said. “But if you have a more veteran teacher who’s on the ball and you know they’re a master teacher, I think it may take away from what the administrator needs to focus on.”

Student surveys

Student surveys are another component that can sap some time, and they are something that has not been a part of previous evaluation systems.

“I think at first (the teachers) were terrified because really they had never even seen or had any idea of what kinds of things the students were going to be asked,” said Terry Sapp, high schools school improvement specialist for Hall County Schools.

She said the system leaders shared sample items with the teachers to try to subdue that anxiety.

“Now that the surveys have been given and their scores are coming out, I haven’t heard of any teacher in our system, whether in the pilot or this year’s implementation, who’ve been shocked by the data that they’ve received from the surveys,” Sapp said.

Surveys are given in a computer lab by another school employee. The time it takes to give the survey can vary, with some school leaders reporting about 10 minutes and others reporting as much as an hour by the time students get into the lab, settled, complete the survey and get back to class. Collins said surveys are read to some of the younger grade levels.

Students take the survey once a year on their teacher; an elementary student may take a survey on his or her classroom teacher in addition to another teacher, such as a music or computer teacher; at the high school level a teacher will have two of his or her class periods take a survey, Sapp said.

Three different versions of the surveys are given, varying by grade level. The survey may ask students to rate statements like: My teacher uses different ways to teach and help me learn.

Glover said some teachers still have concerns that the language isn’t appropriate for the reading level of their students.

Another concern some teachers have is whether the students take the survey seriously, Martin said.

“They want to make sure it’s valid feedback from the students,” he said. “So the important piece is stressing to the students that this is an important survey.” He said he thinks most are taking it seriously.

The surveys were weighted separately under the first versions of the teacher assessment, but now the surveys act as another data point reflecting the teachers’ performance. The Department of Education is looking for the survey data to align with what’s shown in the administrator observations, Sapp said.

“It’s just simply information for the evaluator to make a judgment,” she said.

Student Learning Objectives

One of the biggest concerns for those with the school districts, though, has been implementing Student Learning Objectives.

The teacher evaluation system looks for students’ growth as measured by test scores, so the objectives will serve that purpose for subjects not measured on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests or End of Course Tests given across the state, classes such as art and foreign languages.

School leaders at the district level must develop the objectives.

A major concern for some officials is that the objectives will be different in every school system across the state.

“The whole thing just puzzles me,” Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said.

It requires a significant effort by district staff to develop the objectives, and though most school systems share many of the same types of classes, they are developing the objectives separately, though they will at some point share what they’ve developed.

Sapp said Hall County has probably implemented about 40 of its objectives. By next year the system will probably need to have about 100 done. By the time all of the objectives are complete, there will be hundreds, she said. In fact, the school system is even hiring a part-time 18-month position to help develop and manage the objectives, funding it with Race to the Top money.

The Gainesville system is also working to implement the objectives. Martin said at Gainesville Middle School, the foreign language objectives have been implemented, but little else at this point. In two years, every class will need to have the objectives.

Collins said the current staff is working to bring it all to fruition.

School leaders will have much to work on this summer to develop the objectives, but most said they do feel the new teacher evaluation system could lead to better teaching.

“I believe that the system has the potential to positively impact the quality of teaching and the quality of instruction if we implement it with fidelity,” Sapp said.

Collins said the standards show a more accurate picture of what’s going on in the classroom, and she said she likes that the teachers are getting more feedback.

At the same time, it’s a lot of demands on both teachers and the school systems. When you consider the teacher evaluation system in addition to recently implemented Common Core standards and to a new College & Career Ready Performance Index by which to judge schools — which may eventually include data from the teacher evaluations — the combination can get somewhat overwhelming, Dyer said.

“My concern is we’re asking teachers to produce higher results at the same time they have less classroom time and new, more rigorous standards,” Dyer said. “And all of this will potentially tie into their evaluation — is planned to.”


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