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Georgias bid for federal school grant at risk
'Agressive' teacher evaluation plan needs work to qualify for program
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Federal officials have moved a piece of Georgia’s Race to the Top education grant into a “high risk” category because of the state’s difficulty with implementing a new teacher-evaluation strategy.

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Education released its Race to the Top Year Two report on Georgia’s education reform efforts.

Race to the Top is a competitive $4 billion, four-year grant, designed to help states improve education. The report outlines Georgia’s achievements and its challenges.

The state’s biggest challenge has been in implementing a new evaluation system for teachers and leaders.

Last spring, 10 percent of teachers in 26 partner school districts participated in the state’s teacher evaluation pilot program. Fifty-three teachers from Gainesville City School System took part.

The Teacher Keys Evaluation System evaluates teachers on 10 standards, which include professional knowledge, professionalism, communication and assessment strategies and instructional strategies.

In July, federal officials notified the Georgia Department of Education of its status and cited five components to include in a corrective action plan for improving teacher evaluations.

Those components include management and oversight procedures; more transparency for reviewing evaluation components; educator engagement and communication; improved feedback from educators participating in the evaluations; and using feedback to provide changes to the evaluations before it is fully implemented in the next school year.

“We have been working with U.S. Department of Education to implement these changes,” said Susan Andrews, Georgia DOE’s deputy superintendent of Race to the Top implementation. “The final point is dependent upon the crucial feedback that we will receive from educators and data related to the evaluations taking place during this current school year. Once we receive feedback and review the data, we will be more prepared to make positive adjustments to the evaluation process.”

Hall County teachers also participated in the pilot program. For teachers whose employment is not based on performance, the district reverted to the old Georgia Teacher Observation Instrument evaluation system.

Eloise Barron, assistant superintendent of Hall County Schools, said she feels the evaluation system the system is working on is very promising.

“We think it would be an improvement over the system we are currently using,” Barron said. “We’ve had to go fast to be where we are today. But our (school) system has worked diligently to do everything the state has said that we need to do.”

Administrators say the speed at which so many changes have had to be implemented is partly to blame for Georgia’s difficulty in evaluations.

“In my opinion and the opinion of many others, Georgia’s original scope of work was way too aggressive,” said Merrianne Dyer, Gainesville City Schools superintendent. “It contained goals and strategies and actions that were really unrealistic to accomplish in four years.”

Dyer reasoned the state’s original plan was so aggressive because the grant was so competitive between the states.

She said school districts signed on for the program before knowing exactly what was outlined in the state’s application.

Dyer likened the changes and implementations from both the Race to the Top program and other state mandated changes to “spinning plates.”

“We know all of the things, once they’re finally on the table will probably improve education,” Dyer said “But at the speed we’re implementing the changes, and trying to give support to teachers in schools, at the same time that funding is cut and there aren’t as many resources and there aren’t as many people, has been very, very challenging.”

Though the state needs to improve its evaluation system or risk losing a portion of its funding, the report also highlighted the state’s achievements.

The report cited the work Georgia has done to help transition students to college and career-ready standards, building better data systems, supporting teachers and school leaders, investing in innovation and science, technology, engineering and math and turning around low-performing schools.

“The Georgia Department of Education has supported us in this work in an amazing way,” Dyer said. “But they’re in the same boat we are. We’ve signed on for this grant, we’ve accepted the funding, so we have to get some work done.”