Georgia on teacher evaluations: Legal risks in using student reviews

I reported last week that the US DOE is concerned about changes to Georgia’s Race to the Top plans, changes that could cost the state $33 million of the $400 million education reform grant.

One of the federal agency’s concerns was that Georgia wanted to put less focus on student surveys, piloted this year in some Georgia districts. I wrote about the evaluations a while back.

You can read the US DOE letter here.

According to the AJC, Georgia Schools Superintendent John Barge has responded to the feds, saying he will not implement a teacher evaluation system that might not work and could lead to lawsuits.

The AJC reported:

Barge, in a letter to Ann Whalen, who oversees the federal Race to the Top program, said attorneys for Georgia schools determined that including student input in teacher evaluations is legally risky.

“I will not waste taxpayer dollars to defend a system that we have been warned will not work, ” Barge wrote.

Georgia’s pledge to implement a new teacher evaluation system was part of the reason it won a $400 million federal Race to the Top education grant. Tinkering with its plans for that system got a $33 million chunk of that grant money placed on “high risk” status by the U.S. Department of Education.

In its winning application for Race to the Top funds, Georgia officials said they would implement a teacher evaluation system that includes student surveys of teachers.

“The grant application was written by a different administration and was Georgia’s best estimate of how we needed to proceed in order to achieve the goals outlined in the grant application, ” Barge wrote.

Georgia officials now believe the surveys, particularly from students in kindergarten through the second grade, should not be used as an official part of the evaluation system and should, instead, be informational. They have said the surveys from young students are likely to be uniformly positive, and they have questioned how appropriate it is for students to have a role in evaluating their teachers.

Teresa MacCartney, deputy superintendent for Race to the Top implementation in Georgia, said the state is concerned about potential legal action from teachers if they are denied a raise or face sanction because of student surveys, which, in the state’s initial plan, would account for 10 percent of a teacher’s formal evaluation. “Our legal counsel has advised that, without changes, we will subject the state to a potentially highly litigious situation, ” Barge wrote.

The federal government granted Georgia’s request to drop the student surveys from students in kindergarten through the second grade, but it wants the state to demonstrate more clearly how it would use surveys from older students.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

76 comments Add your comment

teachergirl

July 9th, 2012
10:15 am

I am wary about student surveys. I was part of a beta group for surveys in my middle school homeroom, and a student who often got in trouble in my class and others flat out told me that he was going to give me a bad eval and tried to get others to do so. I know that is one bad experience, but sadly, some students will base evaluations on emotions not facts.

Nikole

July 9th, 2012
10:17 am

Surveys should be informational, but not 10% of an evaluation. Even in upper grades. I can see kids giving bad evaluations because their teacher gave them detention, or silent lunch.

Tony

July 9th, 2012
10:18 am

This is a classic example of how the feds bully states into compliance with their insane ideas. Give me a break! Student surveys have no part in teachers’ evaluations. Period!

Ashley

July 9th, 2012
10:28 am

Troublemaking students evaluating teacher…….hmmmmm let me think……..stupid idea. What is wrong with you people!

justbrowsing

July 9th, 2012
10:29 am

I say forfeit the 33 million- and do what is right in Georgia. There are so many dedicated teachers in Georgia. IMO Arne Duncan’s ideas are based on his experiences with Teacher’s Unions up north.

Attentive Parent

July 9th, 2012
10:29 am

John-The student survey is designed to be applicable to the Positive School Climate and the new definition of student achievement in that NCLB waiver.

For the feds who have the template for how Common Core is really supposed to work Race to the Top and the NCLB waivers and the school improvement, quality assurance, and accreditation policies and practices in the classroom are all tools for hiding the controversial change the child component of Common Core.

The teacher eval is merely to prevent the teacher from closing the door and teaching content. Wrecking full implementation of the real Common Core once again.

And I say that having spent the weekend tracking what Georgia is doing to USG to try to be an early implementer of the Bologna Process and Lumina’s Degree Qualifications Profile. It announced its plans in November 2011 and it relates to changing the nature of college so that a Common Core high school degree will mean college ready. So many moving parts.

At least we have a State School Super trying to do right by Georgia’s teachers and schoolchildren.

http://www.invisibleserfscollar.com/rigor-relevance-and-relationships-the-new-3rs-to-get-to-a-caring-economics/ is a post I just finished as part 2 of what got a lot of play all over the world this weekend.

There is such a hunger for solid information on what is really happening in education, K-12 and higher ed, globally.

Back to documenting the use of accreditation as the driver of transformative change and the enforcer for what is expressly a political vision. Education is only a tool.

MathTeacher

July 9th, 2012
10:36 am

I worked as a long-term substitute in a Race to the Top school last Spring. My students had to fill out surveys evaluating my effectiveness as a teacher–which would have been part of my evaluation if I were a contracted teacher.
Most of the kids completed the survey in less than three minutes, quickly bubbling in the highest or second highest rating in every category–they just wanted to get done with it.

One highly competitive girl who had recently received a 97 on her progress report, gave me the lowest scores possible on fairness in assessment and grading–she was still mad about that 97!

One group of girls who had gotten in a lot of trouble for talking nonstop all semester (and who had gotten in trouble with their parents after I called) gave me the lowest possible scores on “treats all students fairly and treats all students with respect,” though they gave me excellent scores in everything else.

Finally, another small group of kids who had spent most of the semester in ISS for every possible infraction, gave me the lowest possible scores in every single category.

You should have seen the look of triumph on the faces of the kids who gave me bad reviews–they were having their moment of revenge! It would have been hilarious if it hadn’t been so scary! All I could do was thank them for their input–and be glad that as a long term sub, it didn’t matter for me anyway.

MathTeacher

July 9th, 2012
10:43 am

One more thing about the surveys–I felt that it was important that the students’ input reflected their group’s opinion of me. So if Sally hated me because she got in trouble, her best friends hated me too. Woe to the teacher who has to punish a popular kid–in one class where I taught a popular, athletic boy who got in trouble a lot, all the girls with crushes on him rated me as “unfair.”

These are kids we are talking about–I would have done the same at their age, I have no doubt!

vince

July 9th, 2012
10:48 am

In turn, how do you all feel about teachers who get written up, put on professional development plans, etc…completing a survey to evaluate administrators.

Just sayin’……

Fred in DeKalb

July 9th, 2012
10:49 am

Students are not skilled at conducting evaluations, especially at the lower grade levels. What value would one expect from evaluations based primarily on emotion? I’ve seen problems with evaluations given by adults from teacher workshops.

I agree with the comments that they should be conducted and used for informational purposes.

Howard Finkelstein

July 9th, 2012
10:59 am

Student surveys? This the best they can do? Pitiful! Pitiful, sad and in about 3 years this will be deemed to have been an awful idea.

justbrowsing

July 9th, 2012
11:00 am

They say that it will be ony a cross section- so even if all of the students take it- only so many will be counted.

another view

July 9th, 2012
11:05 am

Recall a student asking about how teachers can be fired and how he and a previous class got a teacher fired. Comment made because he did not like the grade he had in class- even though he earned it.

Road Scholar

July 9th, 2012
11:05 am

It was stated that the money was received based on allowing the reviews to be considered. No you don’t want to use the reviews. Turn down the money…not because Barge had a change of heart and “under a different admin”, but because you are no longer honoring what you said you would do on the application! Ethics?

In a different editorial, a web site was furnished for professor evaluations at colleges in this state. Read the reviews…those college kids can’t spell, or make a complete sentence. They all focused on how easy/hard the instructor was; not what they had learned! What makes you think a second grader can make meaningful comments?

Old School 36

July 9th, 2012
11:06 am

@Math Teacher: I agree with your experience. As a middle school teacher I experienced some of that type of “group” mentality because I would discipline a member of their group which sometimes meant ISS. Those friends would see me as being unfair, etc. However, the majority of the students were glad to see that disruptive student removed. We have yet to participate in these surveys. I appreciate that Dr. Barge seems to stand up for for teachers.

Prof

July 9th, 2012
11:13 am

@ Math Teacher. Not at all your fault since you haven’t set up the method of administering the survey, but……… Teachers being evaluated should have NO contact with the students as they evaluate. The teacher certainly shouldn’t be able to tell who has written which evaluation. This totally negates the worth of the evaluation. The evaluations should be completed anonymously, by computer if possible.

To me, the real legal problem of basing pay raises and job sanctions on student evaluations is that our legal system is based on the idea that the accused has the right to face and answer his or her accuser. This is not possible with student evaluations, whether for grades 3-12 or for college. Then there is the subsidiary question of whether the evaluator is qualified to evaluate given such high stakes, especially in grades 3-12.

As for vince’s question about faculty evaluating administrators, that certainly seems justified…. faculty do it at the college level all the time, anonymously of course.

TimeOut

July 9th, 2012
11:16 am

Most teachers remember at least one student who returned several years later to say “thanks” to the teacher who was willing to require academic effort and good conduct from him or her. This same student may have ‘rated’ negatively his or her teacher while still a student. It’s nothing short of incredible to see the stupid piled on top of stupid that has become our nation’s approach to education. Even if not an experienced, successful teacher, couldn’t any person with half a brain discern the idiocy of including such surveys for anything other than informational purposes in evaluations? I remember doing such evaluations in college. At the time, we were made aware that these evaluations were for our professor only, not to be seen by anyone else. I found that useful. I felt it safe to give real feedback, negative or positive. We already have students who expect us to do nearly all or all of their work for them and then to find a way to pass them since NCLB has resulted in everyone but the student having to answer for his or her lack of interest or effort. It would be lovely to think that all students come to school to learn and that they truly wish to conduct themselves in a civil manner; instead, many have only social and/or nutritional goals—I”m here for the free lunch and for the opps to hang with my friends. It is lunacy to incorporate this fallacy into the teacher evaluation system. Even teachers’ evaluations of administrators should be informational…………..sometimes someone has to be the bad guy, making or enforcing the unpopular choices of the those we’ve elected to our board.

MathTeacher

July 9th, 2012
11:20 am

@Prof–I agree, and was surprised that I was to administer surveys to my own students. I would say that most of the students didn’t care about the surveys at all–it was another chore. As a Race to the Top school, we were testing them and surveying them weekly, sometimes daily, and they were fed up with the whole process. But the kids who had a bone to pick were HAPPY that I was in the room, they wanted me to see their surveys. They made a point to hand them to me with a look of triump!
–Power to the People! ha!

catlady

July 9th, 2012
11:22 am

So, GA DOE and governor see the pitfalls NOW of prostituting oneself (the kids) to the federal dollar john. What happened to being responsible? What happened to planning ahead? Another big FAIL for GADOE and Deal.

MB

July 9th, 2012
11:24 am

@ Vince The teachers on PDPs should be recognizable in their comments, wouldn’t you think? And, as I have noted before, those should be outliers. How fair do you think it is that teachers’ evaluations be conducted by administrators who may have very little classroom experience (or, in some cases, NO regular classroom experience)? If those administrators don’t have some type of building-level evaluation, how will you identify problems in leadership (hopefully early in their administrative tenure). The new evaluation system is putting MUCH emphasis on administrative feedback on teachers; how else will you know if the evaluators are qualified if teachers can’t evaluate them as well?

another view

July 9th, 2012
11:28 am

@MB and Vince- there are sometimes questions as to the merit of the PDP in and of itself. I have seen it. It truly has been an instrument of abuse. Often because one disagrees with an administrator.

catlady

July 9th, 2012
11:29 am

I might add my system was one that prostituted itself (sold its soul, really) to get millions of Reading First dollars. The only trouble was, Reading First was based on false assumptions and its “research based best practices” turned out to be made of hot air. (I asked, in exasperation, at one point to see the research on those practices as they relate to ELL kids. Long silence. Then told there WAS NO research on those kids and what worked for them!) We have 8 or more years’ worth of kids whose reading comprehension is poor, but By God! they can “call” any word you put in front of them!

vince

July 9th, 2012
11:30 am

@ math teacher….ooohhhh…yeah, Prof is right. The surveys should have been administered by a 3rd party, preferably a counselor or AP, at computers away from the classroom. Our AP administered all of ours.

redweather

July 9th, 2012
11:30 am

I have had students complain about my not letting them earn a grade for completing a teacher evaluation; other have suggested that I could improve my evaluations if I did so. Need I say more?

While student feedback can have value, at least in the upper grades and college, basing any part of a teacher’s “formal evaluation,” especially if that evaluation is tied to pay, is highly questionable and may be counterproductive. If a teacher knows his or her salary will be affected by student evaluations, there is an obvious insentive to please students rather than hold them accountable.

hardworkingteacher

July 9th, 2012
11:32 am

OMG! Stupidity to the nth degree! With all the budget cutbacks, layoffs furloughs, do more with less programs, let’s just close the doors to the school and let the the chips fall where they may. Teachers are held to higher standards than elected officials who earn triple pay,

redweather

July 9th, 2012
11:32 am

others; incentive

Mountain Man

July 9th, 2012
11:35 am

I am sure the students would rate a teacher very highly who help them cheat on tests. APS should make out relly well.

Fred in DeKalb

July 9th, 2012
11:36 am

I wish an evaluation could be done of the DeKalb School Watch website. I’d give it an F because they censor comments that are contrary to their viewpoints. It did allow differing opinions at one time however it seems those hosting that site did not like the fact the some understood the laws associated with education. It makes a big difference what one can and cannot do, especially when earmarked dollars are involved.

MB

July 9th, 2012
11:38 am

@ another view. My point is that if there are only a few disgruntled teachers in the building, negative feedback should be outlier and an administrator’s overall evaluation should be positive. My guess is that if an administrator is using PDPs as a personal punitive measure, a majority of teachers will be dissatisfied and further investigation would be warranted. We have had MAJOR admin changes in my system and there are some poorly-qualified admins who, IMHO, should not be evaluating what they can’t do (or have not done) themselves. Some of them, due to their lack of experience, are trying to manage by fear and intimidation. Teachers in those buildings should have a voice to let others know (anonymously – see fear and intimidation?) what is happening. Teacher transfers are not always an option, and may be jumping from one fire to another. I think the survey of teachers should be more than informative in the leadership evaluations!

vince

July 9th, 2012
11:40 am

My question was to merely shed light from another angle onto this situation. We rail against the idea of disruptive and unhappy students evaluating their teachers performance yet I suspect many would not see a problem with poor teachers evaluating their administrators.

….unless, of course, you would believe that there is no such thing as a poor teacher.

Mountain Man

July 9th, 2012
11:42 am

I think a better idea is to let teachers evaluate the administration. If a Superintendent gets too many black marks, off with his head!

Mountain Man

July 9th, 2012
11:43 am

Also let teachers fill out an evaluaion of the parents. Too low and the Parent has to go to jail.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

July 9th, 2012
11:43 am

“I will not waste taxpayers’ money to defend a system which we have been warned will not work.”

KUDOS, Dr. Barge.

Our SSOS is going to pick his battles. John’s not going to fight for a flawed system developed and promoted by a prior administration. Can anyone blame him?

But please do not infer from his statement that John won’t fight. He’ll fight in administrative hearings and in the courts for honesty, respect, accountability and discipline in our public schools.

living in an outdated ed system

July 9th, 2012
11:44 am

What will be even more pathetic is if the DoE decides to give the $33 million to Georgia and take their explanations. Even if valid, you can’t win an award based on a certain set of promises and then decide that some of what you applied for was “not accurate.” Maybe it’s unfortunate, but Georgia does not deserve the $33 million at this point.

Clearly, Georgia did a horrendous job not validating some of their “assumptions” from all angles BEFORE applying. Of course if it triggers lawsuits, you can’t go with it, and so you lose the $33 million. End of story.

Mountain Man

July 9th, 2012
11:47 am

We flounder around trying everything new under the sun looking for the “magic bullet” to easily improve education, but never give the old tried and true methods a chance (i.e. parental and student responsibility). Bring back the “F”s and Zeros!!!

another view

July 9th, 2012
11:49 am

Students could care less about your instructional and planning practices- as long as it is fun. Some students can, and will be, purely emotional, mob mentality oriented, opportunistic beings when evaluating teachers.

catlady

July 9th, 2012
12:03 pm

another view: Actually, I think students COULD NOT care less about your practices.

living in: I think Georgia, with its effort on RTT NOT being led by experienced teachers, just said anything they thought would get them in, whether it had been carefully considered or vetted, or not. NOW the chickens are coming home to roost, and we know what chickens do when they roost, right?

Prof

July 9th, 2012
12:04 pm

@ MB, July 9th, 11:24 am and 11:38 am.

I agreed with your latter post. But in answer to your 11:24 am fear that “teachers would be recognizable in their comments,” teachers have either college or advanced degrees and are usually clever enough to disguise their writing styles.

I know I was when asked to evaluate my chair, with whom I had some professional disagreements. Become colloquial if you’re usually formal! Avoid the pithy phrase you always use at department meetings! Use short direct sentences if you usually favor long ornate Germanic-style constructions full of semi-colons!

another view

July 9th, 2012
12:09 pm

thanks catlady- It should be “could not care less”

catlady

July 9th, 2012
12:14 pm

Another view: I once listened to a friend, the head of recreation at a nursing home, talking to a woman about going on a field trip. He: You say you don’t care to? Does that mean you WANT to go or you DON’T want to go!

LOL

Competitive

July 9th, 2012
1:02 pm

Why is it taking some people this long to figure out how stupid the idea of student evaluations is, anyway? Anyone who supported it should be fired for incompetence immediately.

Also, I appreciate Barge’s stance on this.

Michael Moore

July 9th, 2012
1:26 pm

Since the use of student evaluations has been piloted in Georgia, what does the research say? Were the surveys valid and reliable. In fact, the whole piloted teacher evaluation system…what’s the data tell us?

long time educator

July 9th, 2012
1:37 pm

There is a place for student surveys. When I taught middle school gifted language arts across 6th through 8th grades, I asked the 8th graders who were moving on to evaluate the three years of classes and used it to improve instruction. It was not too personal to me, but I asked them what their favorite unit was, their least favorite unit, how I could do a better job with upcoming 6th graders, Academic Bowl, Honor Society, etc. It was a written survey and I expected them to write a response, but they often ended up discussing among themselves as they completed it. They did it in front of me; joked about unpopular assignments and praised their favorite literature selections. I remember one 8th grader who wrote that he hated the old fashioned language of Dickens’ Christmas Carol when he started out, but after reading it together as a class and explaining the antiquated style, it became his favorite book that we did together. I wanted them to be honest and they were never mean spirited. It became one of my favorite activities and I really did use many of their suggestions. They knew it was not to criticize me, but to improve the program.

Elizabeth

July 9th, 2012
1:41 pm

I will sue the parents of every student who affects my evaluation if this comes to pass. And I will sue any BOE who publishes my evaulation for the public or parents to see.

Tony

July 9th, 2012
1:49 pm

You know, all this stuff being rammed down our throats from the feds, extremely wealthy, and business elite reminds me a lot of the old story , The Emporer’s New Clothes. Whether it be Common Core GPS, PARCC assessments, Race to the Top, Value Added Measures for teacher effectiveness, or any of these other components called Ed Reform. Does anyone else see that the emporer is naked?

long time educator

July 9th, 2012
1:51 pm

Another point: I was a school administrator for 8 years. Throughout the year, parents called to complain, ask questions or make comments about different teachers. My standard answer was, “Have you talked to Mrs.X about this?” and if not, please talk to her first. Then I would not leave it up to the parent and I would have the teacher call the parent to straighten out what I was sure was a misunderstanding. I usually never heard any more about it. BUT, a former administrator advised me to keep a folder on each teacher, and to throw every parent complaint or comment in that folder. Over time, you will see that some folders have nothing but happy parent comments and some begin to bulge with the same complaints. This is where it is fair to make it part of the Duties and Responsibilities evaluation and address weaknesses with a PDP. This is also why it is true that every administrator knows who his problem teachers are without all these artificial hoops that take up so much time.

Jerry Eads

July 9th, 2012
1:51 pm

Bravo, bravo, bravo Mr. Barge. Incorporating student ratings into teacher hire/fire decisions simply reduces the process to a popularity contest (not far different from the worthless process we now have in place). As with so many other “reforms” based purely on some incompetent’s not even half-baked bad ideas, there is NO research that suggests firing teachers by student ratings would make for better learning. There may be a glimmer of hope for Georgia’s future yet.

YES, there is a place for student ratings. I too have learned a great deal from their feedback, and I’ve tried hard (hopefully successfully) to use it to make myself better in the classroom. But to be fired because I refuse to make life easy for someone who wishes not to work doesn’t strike me as the way to save American education.

Laurie

July 9th, 2012
1:57 pm

I don’t think numerical evaluations, particularly those from very young students, should play any direct roll in determining teacher pay or anything like that, but I do think that good teachers seek frequent feedback from students and parents, and sometimes that might be best done in the form of a survey, including perhaps an anonymous survey.

AHSPerspective

July 9th, 2012
2:13 pm

This year our school implemented student evaluations for our feedback in anticipation of the changes that were coming down the pike. Administrators never saw the results, but we were to write a reflection. This took place at the end of each semester. Some students (not all) tried to use this as a power play or intimidation factor. When collecting projects or assignments they they didn’t have they would comment that they wanted to know when they were going to evaluate their teachers because they wanted to give certain teachers a bad evaluation. It didn’t make too much of a difference because I knew the evaluations didn’t mean anything at that point, but I did bring it up to the administration that I didn’t appreciate students trying to bully or intimidate me.

Hall Native

July 9th, 2012
2:31 pm

Ah but puppet master and Deal neighbor Will schofield, superintendent here in Hall county, said in the Gainesville paper that the GADOE will ‘get in line’ in order to get federal dollars.

Barge will fold to his former boss again as he always does.

http://www.gainesvilletimes.com/m/section/6/article/69841/