A recently formed group called GREATER — Georgia Researchers, Educators, and Advocates for Teacher Evaluation Reform — sent a letter to Gov. Nathan Deal, State Superintendent John Barge, and other educational leaders about concerns over teacher evaluations. But the letter writers have yet to get a reply.
Here is a recent statement from the group, which now counts nearly 50 Georgia educators among its supporters, including many university professors:
Recently the U.S .Department of Education placed Georgia at “high risk” of losing $33 million dollars in Race to the Top (RT3) funds because, in fear of legal issues, Georgia removed the student input portion of their new teacher evaluation.
Well, here’s a radical suggestion: Let the federal government have it all!
As a key component of receiving the federal Race to the Top grant, the state of Georgia has crafted a new system for evaluating teachers and principals called Teacher/Leader Keys. The system is to be implemented this fall. GREATER, a consortium of nearly 50 educational researchers at 10 universities and colleges across Georgia, has expressed serious concern about the roll-out of this system to Governor Nathan Deal, the State Board of Education, and several superintendents. The student input portion of the proposed evaluation system is not the only problem with this proposed program.
The flaws in the construction and planned implementation of Teacher/Leader Keys are such that if Georgia continues in its rush to use this system, the final result will likely be negative educational, social, and emotional outcomes for students, teachers, and leaders alike.
As it has been crafted, Teacher/Leader Keys is based on unproven evaluation models that carry foreseeable harmful consequences. GREATER (Georgia Researchers, Educators, and Advocates for Teacher Evaluation Reform), has four main concerns with the new evaluation program: (1) the validity of it, (2) the feasibility of implementing it, (3) the negative unintended consequences to Georgia’s children to come from it, and (4) the timing to implement it.
Validity – Educational research clearly shows us that teacher evaluation using value-added student growth models will result in inaccurate assessments of our teachers. Further, decisions based on these inaccuracies may cause an even more demoralized profession, decreased learning, and harm to the children in our care.
Feasibility – At a time when drastic cuts are happening in school systems across the state, little RT3 money is going to our students or their classrooms. Instead, money has been devoted to supporting models like Keys. In its ill-designed attempt to evaluate teachers/leaders, Keys has only created another layer of bureaucracy at a time when teachers are working harder than ever to reach larger numbers of students with fewer resources. Further, money to sustain the Keys program does not exist. What happens when the federal money runs out?
Unintended Consequences – Georgia is already one of many states marred by allegations of cheating on standardized tests. Are we now assuming that linking standardized test scores to teacher and leader evaluations will make things better? If so, how? Research clearly shows that an overemphasis on test scores will not result in increased learning, increased well-being, or greater success. Georgia’s students are more than the sum of their test scores and, our emphasis on high-stakes testing has largely resulted in the demoralization of teachers, students, and school leaders across the state.
Timing – Georgia is not ready to implement Teacher/Leader Keys. They have only given themselves five months to evaluate the success of the program (if any) before implementing across the state this fall. This is an evaluation system that will have a tremendous influence on the livelihoods of teachers/leaders and the educational outcomes of students. The Georgia Department of Education should take additional time to analyze data and come up with valid and reliable outcomes before committing our students and teachers/leaders to any evaluation system.
Overall, there are just too many problems with the many unsustainable promises, such as Keys, that GA has made to receive RT3 funding. Educational research underlies GREATER’s primary recommendation that the state returns the federal money altogether and chooses to “opt out” of Race to the Top, as have Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Oregon, South Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming. However, if the state will not withdraw, we secondarily recommend that the state: (1) further pilot and evaluate the new system before large-scale implementation and (2) drastically reduce (or eliminate) the use of student standardized test scores as a measure of teacher or leader effectiveness.
If following GREATER’s recommendations means that Georgia will lose RT3 money, then perhaps the loss is worth it to our children. In returning this money and taking time to craft a better evaluation system, we will avoid a detrimental and poorly planned attempt at educational reform that will push education in our state yet further behind.
In a “race to the top,” we cannot afford to lose sight of what matters the most—the academic, social, and emotional growth of Georgia’s children. Our students, teachers, and communities deserve a GREATER education. They deserve thoughtful, reliable, valid reforms that will continually improve teaching and learning for all students.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog