Georgia could delay impact of teacher evaluation system

Georgia teachers who receive poor scores on their job evaluations this year may be forgiven under a proposal the state Department of Education plans to make to the federal government.

The state was set to roll out a high-stakes teacher evaluation system this year that bases half of teachers’ job ratings on students’ academic growth, as measured in some grades and subjects through standardized tests. The new system influences decisions about hiring, firing, certification and — for some — pay. It’s tied to a $400 million federal grant called Race to the Top and to Georgia’s request for freedom from some requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

But State School Superintendent John Barge told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he plans to ask federal permission to delay the consequences of the new system. Teachers would still be evaluated under it, as required by state law. But the results would not be used for what the Georgia Department of Education called “high-stakes decisions.”

Department spokesman Matt Cardoza said Georgia was waiting for federal guidance to determine which decisions would be considered high-stakes.

Barge said the decision to seek the delay was based on educators’ concerns about increasing demands on teachers and schools. Those include new tests, relatively new standards and this new evaluation system.

“The issue I continue to hear is that the timeline for full implementation of the reform efforts has converged and that you are concerned that rushing these initiatives may have a detrimental effect on the quality of the final implementation,” he wrote in an Aug. 29 letter to school superintendents.

Even if the delay is granted, individual districts could chose to use the evaluation results for personnel decisions. And performance pay programs in districts participating in Race to the Top grants will continue, Cardoza said.

Georgia is one of about 20 states using students’ academic growth as a major factor in evaluating teachers. Policymakers say the new system will do a better job of identifying great teachers as well as teachers who are struggling, replacing a system where nearly all teachers were rated satisfactory.

In August, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that states that had received No Child Left Behind waivers could ask to delay, likely until next school year, making students’ academic growth part of teacher evaluation systems.

“A one-year delay is not ideal, but it doesn’t mean the end of the program,” said Michael O’Sullivan, state outreach director for education advocacy group StudentsFirst Georgia, which has been a strong supporter of the new system. “As long as we’re able to get this plan in action and off the ground, that’s what we’ll be working for.”

Georgia’s new teacher evaluation system bases half of a teacher’s job evaluation on a principal or other administrator watching him or her teach. The rest is based on students’ academic growth. For teachers of subjects covered by state tests — about a third of teachers statewide — that “growth” is measured by standardized tests. For other teachers, district-designed measures will be used.

Some educators worry that the new system puts too much weight on a measure based on standardized tests and that the administrators won’t have enough time to make the classroom observations.

Georgia is waiting on more information from the U.S. Department of Education on how to apply for the delay, Georgia Department of Education officials said.

Professional Association of Georgia Educators spokesperson Tim Callahan said he thought Georgia made the right move in seeking the delay because it will give educators more time to put the system in place, and perhaps more time to make what he said were needed changes.

“All along we’ve been saying that it’s such a critical issue that we need to do this well rather than fast,” he said.

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