Kelly Henson, executive secretary of the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, has concerns about Senate Bill 364.
Photo: Bob Andres
Photo: Bob Andres

New teacher evaluation system offers vague measure in place of tests

Editor's Note: Politicians took a run at setting up a new teacher evaluation system in 2016, and with education reform high on the list of Gov. Nathan Deal’s to-do list in 2017, more is sure to come.

Original Story: A law signed Tuesday by Gov. Nathan Deal will reduce the importance of student test performance in teacher evaluations while introducing a murky new measure.

The governor’s endorsement of Senate Bill 364 was hailed by teachers, parents and school leaders who believe pressure to improve test results has distorted teaching, but some questioned the rollback’s effect on measuring teacher quality.

The new law will reduce the weight of test results to 30 percent of a teacher’s evaluation, down from 50 percent.

The bill, which had near unanimous support, calls for “professional growth” to fill the void. The term was defined as “progress toward or attainment of professional growth goals,” which are to be based on things like “growth indicators.” School districts will establish what that means in negotiations with the state school board.

“How in the world is that going to work?” Kelly Henson, executive secretary of the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, asked his commissioners at their meeting last month. The commission manages teacher licenses, which are partly based on performance. “I’m not saying that’s a bad idea,” Henson said. “I’m just saying, boy, that creates more questions than answers.”

The legislation rode a popular wave of support, with muted resistance from groups such as the Foundation for Excellence in Education, founded by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to overhaul public education.

The bill’s author, Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, waited weeks for the governor to sign or veto his work, the suspense enduring until Tuesday. Teachers had feared a veto, and Tippins said he was too wary to ask the governor why he’d waited so long.

“I’m thankful that he signed it,” said the soft-spoken former Cobb County school board member, who now runs the Senate’s education policy committee. Tippins quietly built a powerful coalition to support the measure, from groups representing teachers, school administrators and school boards, to the Georgia PTA, with nearly 230,000 members.

SB 364 also reduces the role of test results in evaluations for principals and assistant principals to 40 percent, down from 70 percent. It cuts the number of standardized tests in a student’s career, from 32 to 24, addressing what Tippins called “excessive” testing. And it allows districts to revisit their much-maligned “student learning objective” tests —homegrown measures for subjects like art, Spanish and PE for which there are no standardized state tests.

The Professional Association of Georgia Educators, the state’s largest teacher advocacy group, hailed the legislation as “a big win” for educators, students and parents.

Deal vetoed another education bill that introduced ways for students to get out of taking the tests. Senate Bill 355 was pushed by an ardent band of parents who testified about poor treatment of children who refused to take them and had to sit and stare at a wall or miss out on ice cream parties afterward.

Meg Norris started Opt Out Georgia, a small and scrappy, but growing, organization. She disagreed with Deal’s justification for his veto. The governor’s office explained that school systems can write their own opt-out procedures, so there’s no need for the legislation. But Norris said her group had documented hundreds of cases of students being punished for their refusal.

“Vetoing that bill showed how little the governor knows about what’s happening in the school systems,” she said. She vowed to fight again next year for another opt-out bill.

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