Bringing balance to teacher evaluations

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Bringing balance to teacher evaluations

When Gov. Nathan Deal and the General Assembly tied teacher evaluations to student test scores three years ago, they argued other professionals are judged on performance-based data, so teachers should be as well.

But a rising number of influential companies, including Microsoft, Accenture and General Electric, are abandoning annual checklist performance reviews in favor of less-regimented and more informal and frequent feedback. Considered a pacesetter in management, GE earned headlines last summer when it announced it was scrapping annual performance reviews for its 300,000 employees.

For both GE and its employees to succeed in an economy where change is the only constant, goal-setting couldn’t occur around a conference table every 12 months. Once noted for its “rank and yank” approach of stacking employees against each other and firing the lowest 10 percent, GE now talks about regular manager-team touchpoints and growth and development.

In passing Senate Bill 364 this session, the Georgia General Assembly also retreated from “rank and yank.”

The bill’s revamped evaluation process — and the Legislature’s new spirit of collegiality with educators — will not only benefit teachers, but students as well. The legislation creates more balance and leeway in measuring teacher effectiveness.

No longer will half of a teacher’s rating and 70 percent of an administrator’s rating depend on student growth as measured by state high-stakes exams. Instead, student scores will count 30 percent for teachers and 40 percent for administrators. The law now mandates administrators observe teachers six times a year. Under SB 364, principals will have more discretion, choosing perhaps to visit the classrooms of the highest performers less and those of struggling teachers more, and allowing them more time for critical follow-up conversations.

“It is my intention through this bill to grant flexibility and nimbleness,” said sponsor Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta. “Our goal should be a continual improvement model. We have to grant people the flexibility to be creative and innovative so they can tailor education models to the needs of the students. We want educators to take informed risks so we can get a return on our investments of education dollars.”

In listening to the hundreds of teachers who contacted them, the Legislature changed the education reform narrative in a critical way: Georgia educators are now seen as part of the reform effort, rather than an obstacle to it. Up until now, front-line educators haven’t been leading the charge; they’ve been ducking all the bad ideas, inane policies and political mandates lobbed at them by elected officials.

As Gwinnett County music teacher Sherry Coulombe told legislators, “Under the current evaluation module, many arts teachers around the great state of Georgia are going unrecognized and not receiving credit for all they do on a daily basis. I teach way more than a bubble test can measure. If one size fits all is not an appropriate approach to teaching and learning, a single standardized bubble test shall also not be an appropriate vessel to evaluate student and teacher performance.”

Among those warning the Legislature that Georgia has to value teachers more, or risking losing them, was Fulton school board member Katie Reeves.

“We used to be able to find teachers easily. Now we are struggling,” Reeves told the House Education Committee. “People go into education because it is a calling; culture and climate are important. We have to do what we can to make teaching a rewarding profession. I am going to use that word again — profession. Our teachers are professionals and they need to be treated like professionals.”

Maureen Downey, for the Editorial Board.

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