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New teacher evaluations look at administrative, student input
Pilot moves state toward paying teachers based on performance
Dana Richardson teaches an English class at Chestatee High School. Some local teachers will be part of a pilot program starting in January that will evaluate them based on administrator evaluations, student achievement and student surveys. - photo by Tom Reed

School systems want to hire quality, effective educators they can retain.

Before, teachers were evaluated by administrators on their classroom demeanor, teaching methods and professional development. Pay was based on years of experience and college degrees.

Now, as part of Georgia's Race to the Top grant, teachers may soon be paid based on performance, which will be judged on several criteria, including student achievement.

"The whole umbrella, the new Teacher Keys Evaluation System, has three components," said Terry Sapp, educator on special assignment for Hall County Schools. "There is the (observation piece), the second piece is student achievement data and the third is student survey data."

For student achievement, some classes are judged on standardized tests and others on student learning objectives submitted by individual school systems.

A balanced approach
The new evaluation system was one of Georgia's ways to meet the needs of the Race to the Top grant, which awarded the state $400 million. Twenty-six districts are participating in the grant, including Hall and Gainesville.

Race to the Top is an education reform initiative revolving around four specific areas: adopting standards and tests to prepare students for college and careers, building data systems that measure student growth, retaining effective teachers and leadership and turning around the lowest-achieving schools.

The existing evaluation system is rubric based, said Avis King, deputy superintendent of school improvement for the Georgia Department of Education.

She said it was a great method administrators used when observing teachers in their classroom, with one issue — it was immense.

The state restructured it and added the survey and achievement parts, King said.

A state committee will decide how much the three components will affect a teacher's evaluation score, said Jamey Moore, director of curriculum and instruction for Gainesville City Schools.

"They are an attempt at balanced assessments, at having multiple data points to reinforce what is seen during the observations," he said.

The new system will be piloted for select teachers beginning in January. Districts could choose to have 10 percent of all their teachers involved, or 10 percent of their schools involved. Teachers were chosen at random, King said.

The pilot will not be used for teacher personnel decisions, Moore said. It will be a way for the state to determine what methods will work best when the evaluation system starts in August.

"I think it's an effective measure," said Priscilla Collins, principal at Gainesville Exploration Academy and director of teaching and leadership quality for Gainesville City Schools. "The survey, that's going to take some getting used to."

Student opinion
The surveys are new to all teachers. They include 10 standards, such as whether the teacher knows their subject.

Collins said they are similar to surveys college students take at the end of a class. They will be age-appropriate, with smiley faces instead of "agree" and "disagree" for the younger grades.

Retired teacher Phyllis Marshall of Cornelia does not agree with the student survey piece.

"In college, yes, because students are there to learn, but not all elementary through high school students are in the same category," she said in an email to The Times. "Those with disciplinary problems and those whose grades are low ... could resent a teacher who tries to control the class and push their students to do their assignments.

Although this is a good teacher trait, these students may not see it the same, leading to an unfair evaluation for the teacher."

That's a concern the state is well aware of, King said.

"You have to see how all things are doing. If you get a teacher with a really good observation and good test data, it shows they know what they're doing," she said. "We know that may come up. ... We are being very careful with this."

King said the state is not sure yet whether all student surveys will be used in the evaluation portion, especially if all but a few point to the same performance.

She also heard concerns of expecting educated answers from young children's surveys.

"We understand, especially with K through second grade, that's a young age to do the surveys," King said. "But with this as the pilot, we decided to go ahead and do it."

Student achievement
The pilot will also look at student achievement through several different measures. School systems were asked to create Student Learning Objectives for classes that are not tested with the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test or an End of Course Test.

These include all subjects in grades kindergarten through third, plus elective and career classes.

"The most challenging part ... is that we are being asked to do with our limited resources the same thing the Department of Education will do for the tested subjects," Moore said. "They're taking care of the 30 percent (for tested subjects) and they asked us to take care of the other 70 percent."

Moore said school systems need pre- and post-tests, standards to focus on and a set of goals and strategies for attaining the target.

The tests can either be created by the school system or chosen from existing ones that come with textbooks or are nationally or state-approved.

Objectives were due Thursday to the Georgia Department of Education. They are being revised and approved and should be returned to school systems this week.

The objective specifies how much growth is expected between pre- and post-tests, Sapp said.

"A lot of districts have already been doing this," King said. "We're hoping as we move along we get a lot of feedback."

Moore said Gainesville teachers are accustomed to writing student achievement goals. The difference is now the goals must be the same for all teachers of the same subject area in the district.

Both Sapp and Collins said teachers seem at ease with what they're being asked to create, but Moore said there is cause for concern with the lack of consistency of the objectives.

"I have heard many challenges to the reliability of this portion," he said. "We will have different goals than Hall County because every district has to set its own goals. Therefore, a teacher that's successful in one system may be declared unsuccessful by the goals set in another."

He said another issue is the nature of the two types of student achievement pieces. With standardized tests, teachers are not allowed to see questions beforehand or talk about them afterward.

There is also unease about the volume of tests and objectives needing to be written.

"When this is the evaluation system being used for all teachers, a teacher that teaches a quarterly class to multiple grade levels for multiple periods, like a middle school P.E. teacher, could end up having 24 goals — six per quarter or 24 for the year to manage the student growth portion of the evaluation," Moore said.

King said it was good for school systems to create their own goals, objectives and selection of pre- and post-tests, which will all eventually be put together for districts to share.

"We really feel the districts know what's happening and what their students need," she said. "It may be a tiered objective because students come in at different levels. ... We're focusing on quality."

Moore said this is an instance where the department should set consistent goals and provide consistent tests.

"If they plan to use these measures for determining personnel decisions and pay for performance, it is only fair to give teachers an even playing field among districts," he said.

Raising the bar
Focusing on quality means rewarding teachers who do well on the evaluations.

"What we're currently doing does not single out what exemplary teachers are," Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield said. "We've got an extra teacher compensation based on mediocrity as the standard and it does a pretty good job of zoning in on ineffective practices, but we want to find a way to articulate what great looks like and eventually reward that."

The rewards, usually referred to as pay for performance, are met with both good and bad responses from teachers.

"In my opinion it means coming up with a common understanding of what excellent teaching is," Schofield said. "It should not be to penalize ineffective teachers, but to recognize and reward effective teaching."

Frank Lock, president of the Hall and Gainesville chapter of the Georgia Retired Educators Association, believes this is not the best method.

"Based on experiencing four or five of these types of performance pay plans during my 35 years teaching ... this part of the plan will not work," he said.

Lock said he has found performance pay plans "consistently counterproductive and damaging to teacher morale."

He experienced several different merit pay plans.

One depended on principal evaluations on being "master teachers." Others were based on student achievement data.

"Very few teachers at our school were designated ‘master teachers,' despite the fact that a number of excellent teachers had applied, and the pay-for-performance money was not renewed after the third year," he said. "No one would describe it as a positive experience."

Georgia has not tried before to have state-level pay for performance.

"The only thing that we did that was close to this was pay for performance at the school level," King said. "You gave a monetary amount to the school and they could divvy it up."

State officials are focusing on perfecting the evaluation system. They're not working on pay for performance yet, King said.

"In Race to the Top there is a merit pay piece, but that doesn't go into effect until 2013," she said. "Those teachers that are at the top of the list would be rewarded and we would want to support the teachers that need help."

Schofield said teachers are worried because Hall County has never done a pay-for-performance model before, but veteran teachers can opt out of it.

"The feedback I hear is that we don't know how to reward performance, and that's a true statement," Schofield said. "The teacher pay situation is based on getting older and getting more classes in. We've got to find a better way to do this."

Determining what makes a teacher excellent is vital, whether this pilot is the right way or not, local school officials said.

"As a Race to the Top district, we had the opportunity to ask these hard questions and many others of the state Department of Education," Moore said. "Our hope is that the state is listening to our feedback during the hold-harmless pilot so the actual use of the evaluation instrument will support good teachers."