A reader sent me this question:
You may be ahead of me on this, but the second half of the school year just ended and so did the pilot test of the new teacher and principal evaluation systems. The 26 participating Race to the Top districts were asked to pilot test them with 10 percent of their faculties. Results, data and feedback were to be returned to the DOE by the end of May. I’d sure like to know what they learned. Wonder if Teresa MacCartney and company have the summary report yet?
I asked DOE to respond and ended up in a 40-minute phone conversation Friday afternoon with Teresa MacCartney, deputy superintendent for Race to the Top implementation, and Martha Ann Todd, director of teacher and leader effectiveness.
Here is a brief summary. (I also asked DOE to write an op-ed on the teacher evaluation process and will share if I get it.)
DOE is not done analyzing all the data that came back from the pilot; it is still working on the cumulative teacher and leader effectiveness measure. So, there is no single report yet.
DOE hopes to gain more information this year as 25 non Race to the Top districts join the pilot, giving the state a sample of 50,000 teachers all told, which officials say will provide far more data than the limited four-month pilot.
The pilot will allow the non RTTT districts to get a look at the new teacher/leader evaluation system before the full statewide roll-out in 2014-2015
MacCartney said the system is designed to be changed every year based on what DOE learns. “This is an opportunity to work with districts.”
What they learned from the limited four-month pilot:
No 1: Georgia needs a professional “electronic platform” for evaluators of teachers to record their observations and for teachers to respond. So, the state has contracted with one of the big names in online teacher evaluation tools, Truenorthlogic, the company that Gwinnett and APS already use.
MacCartney said the platform is more user-friendly, efficient and solid. Both teachers and students can complete their surveys online.
DOE is abandoning the student surveys of teacher in the early grades, saying that it didn’t learn enough from the k-3 student evaluations of teachers. (You can read about the original plan here.)
The first training was last week on the new electronic platform. One plus: Evaluators can access the system on their iPads, iPhones and laptops as they observe teachers in the classroom. There is no need for pencil and paper observations that then have to be fed into a computer after the fact. The platform also has a “dashboard” that allows principals and the district office to see at a glance where the process stands and what’s been added.
The platform links to the standards, so if teachers are told that they need to work on differentiating instruction, they can be led to a video on that skill.
From the pilot, DOE learned that districts had a hard time setting targets for student learning objectives so the state’s 16 trainers are working with districts on pre and post assessments of student learning. While the trainers from DOE are not doing teacher evaluations, they are going into classrooms with evaluators to help them figure out how to do them.
Based on feedback from educators, the trainers earned high marks for their coaching of evaluators and their hands-0n work in the districts.
DOE also tweaked the rubrics around the standards observation tool and changed some language. DOE also said that students whose performance counts in teacher evaluations must be in the classroom at least 65 percent of the year. DOE learned that it needs different rules for alternative programs.
What was very helpful to DOE was going out and visiting all 26 RTTT districts. DOE/RTTT staffers sat down with principals and teachers and received “blunt feedback.”
Educators liked the standards and observation tools, which they found more streamlined than the Class Keys system. Teachers understood better what is being looked for in the standards.
As a response to feedback, there will now be two 30-minute classroom observations of teachers rather than three. However, DOE added four “walk-through, more informal observations” that will focus on specific performance standards rather than cross all 10 of the standards.
I had a lot of questions about what a “walk-through” will yield and whether these drive-by assessments are fair to the teachers and whether principals will do them faithfully. (To me, these walk-throughs seem an easy element to do in a perfunctory fashion.)
“You are never going to be able to remove professional judgment from the system.”
But the two DOE officials stressed the back-and-forth dialogue between teachers and evaluators built into the evaluation process. Those conversations are where teachers can voice concerns about what was observed and when. In other words, teachers have a way of expressing doubts about the validity of the observations.
DOE heard of one school where the principal signed off on the evaluations without the observations, but said that such lapses should be caught with the new electronic platform as it requires documentation and responses from teachers. But the two officials acknowledged that they can’t weed out untruthfulness in every instance.
“When the principal completes the observation, then releases it to the electronic platform for review, the teacher has the opportunity to provide commentary back about it.”
In addition, principals and assistant principals will be evaluated on how well they handled teacher evaluations so their own rating will hinge on their thoroughness and fidelity to the new evaluation process.
Given that there are are multiple measures and a student achievement piece, a principal that rates everyone exemplary and effective without corresponding student data is going to draw notice. In addition, DOE will do random audits.
The challenges are greater for Georgia schools systems that were using the older teacher evaluation process that took less time than those systems experienced with Class Keys. “It is going to be a learning curve for them,” said MacCartney.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog
Also, Staff writer Nancy Badertscher is working on a story that involves students taking longer than four years to graduate from high school. She’d like to talk to students/ and or parents who experienced this situation to help shed light on the hardships, challenges that put students in this spot. If you can help and would be willing to be quoted, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.