The expedited reform timeline embedded in the federal Race to the Top grants is a concern among the state officials here in Georgia charged with creating and launching one of the most controversial new reforms: How to better evaluate — and ultimately pay — teachers.
Georgia is about to pilot its new evaluation system next month in the systems that agreed to be part of the Race to the Top grant.
And there is good reason for trepidation. Our neighbor Tennessee rushed its new, complex eval system into operation with no real piloting, and complaints are mounting. Last week, Gov. Bill Haslam requested more study of Tennessee’s evaluation tool.
As we discussed here a few weeks ago, Tennessee seems to have bumbled into a perplexing method of teacher evaluations. As in every state, Tennessee had to devise a fair way to rate the more than 50 percent of its teachers for whom there are no student test scores — teachers in the early grades, art, music and vo-tech.
So, it created a system where these teachers can pick a tested area by which they, too, can be judged. For example, music teachers can choose to be assessed by the school’s writing scores.
As The New York Times described it: Half of their assessment is based on their students’ results on state test scores, a serious problem for those who teach subjects with no state test. For 15 percent of their testing evaluation, teachers without scores are permitted to choose which subject test they want to be judged on. Few pick something related to their expertise; instead, they try to anticipate the subject that their school is likely to score well on in the state exams next spring. It’s a bit like Vegas, and if you pick the wrong academic subject, you lose and get a bad evaluation. While this may have nothing to do with academic performance, it does measure a teacher’s ability to play the odds. There’s also the question of how a principal can do a classroom observation of someone who doesn’t teach a classroom subject.
Haslam said Wednesday that he has appointed SCORE, a Nashville advocacy group that pushed for reforms to teacher evaluations, to conduct a formal review of how well the state’s new system is working. The review will coincide with an internal analysis by the Tennessee Department of Education.
The study comes after state lawmakers, including some fellow Republicans, questioned whether efforts to grade teacher performance are being rolled out haphazardly. Haslam defended the new system and urged lawmakers not to take action until after the state and SCORE reports have been delivered.
“We don’t feel like legislative changes are the right approach this year,” Haslam said. “It’s not a question of, should we have it? It’s a question of, is the one that we have working well?”
The study, which would be delivered by June 1, is the latest of in a series of actions taken by Haslam before the upcoming legislative session to head off political fights. The governor had previously called for a study of school vouchers — which also will not be delivered until after the legislature adjourns — and he has publicly opposed bills brought by senior Republican lawmakers dealing with taxes and living wage ordinances.
Haslam was flanked by about a dozen Republican lawmakers as he announced the teacher evaluation studies at a press conference in the state Capitol early Wednesday afternoon.
Among them were Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell, who both agreed that lawmakers should not make changes to the evaluation process this year. “Change is tough. I understand that. There’s not a legislator standing up here that hasn’t heard from teachers in our district,” Ramsey said. “But now that we’ve gotten into this evaluation process … I think for the most part, it has been positive.”
In 2010, Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, took the first step toward toughening teacher evaluations by tying them to student test scores as part of the state’s winning application for a $500 million federal grant. Haslam went a step farther last year by creating a rating system used to decide whether teachers should earn and keep tenure.
The new system went into effect this school year. Since then, state lawmakers say they have heard complaints from teachers, administrators and parents that the new evaluations are too time-consuming and subjective.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog