New evaluation pilot ‘skewed,’ with too few unsatisfactory teachers, officials say

The state’s new teacher evaluation system needs some work. That’s the lesson Georgia education leaders are drawing from a pilot study that unexpectedly showed only a tiny fraction of the state’s teachers are ineffective.

A report from the state Department of Education found ratings of about 5,800 teachers in last year’s pilot study “skewed to the positive,” with less than 1 percent of teachers classified as ineffective and one in five getting the top rating of exemplary.

State officials say they expect more realistic outcomes as teachers and principals are better trained and have more time to adapt to the new evaluation system, which is to roll out statewide in the 2014-2015 school year.

Georgia is spending millions of dollars from its federal Race to the Top grant on the new evaluation system, which is meant eventually to showcase good teachers and root out bad ones by tying teachers’ ratings to their students’ academic success.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, said the preliminary results — particularly the finding that less than 1 percent of teachers are unsatisfactory — raise serious questions.

“Statistically, this flies in the face of our academic achievement levels. These numbers just doesn’t jibe with reality,” Millar said. “If the Georgia evaluation system is going to be based on these type of statistics, I wouldn’t see us going forward with it because, just statistically, it can’t be valid.”

Teachers in DeKalb, Gwinnett, Cherokee, Clayton, Henry and 21 other school districts participated in the pilot program, which ran from January to May 2012 and resulted in 0.32 percent of teachers being classified as ineffective, 5.95 percent as developing/needs improvement, 74.4 percent as proficient and 19.3 percent as exemplary, according to a state Department of Education report obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution under the Georgia Open Records Act.

A major component of teachers’ evaluations — the measure of students’ progress — is not included. State officials said that’s still being analyzed and will be reported later.

The report acknowledges the pilot results did not meet state officials’ expectations and points to the need for more training. James Stronge, a nationally known education consultant who was hired to help develop the system, said he doubts that only about 6 percent of teachers need improvement.

“We’re not aiming to get people,” Stronge said. “But in an honest evaluation, that’s likely too low for the percentage of teachers needing assistance to improve their performance.”

Avis King, the state’s deputy school superintendent for school improvement, said the report on the pilot was “very honest, and that’s what we wanted it to be.”

Martha Ann Todd, associate state superintendent for teacher and leader effectiveness, said she expects more realistic results as educators receive more training and become more accustomed to the new process.

“I think it’s going to be a culture shift until we get a true measure,” Todd said.

Ten percent of teachers scoring at the extremes of exemplary and unsatisfactory likely would be more accurate, Todd and King said.

Initially, only the 26 local school districts that partnered with the state on its successful bid for a $400 million federal Race to the Top grant in 2010 were obligated to use the new teacher evaluation system.

But as a condition of its waiver from requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law, Georgia has since had to commit to using the new evaluation system in all 180 local school districts effective with the 2014-2015 school year.

An expanded pilot program is taking place this year, involving about 50,000 teachers in 50 school districts.

The old evaluation system rated teachers as satisfactory/unsatisfactory and didn’t judge them by students’ academic progress. The new one does and has four different ratings: exemplary, proficient, developing/needs improvement and unsatisfactory.

Educators have long conceded the previous evaluation system, which rated less than 1 percent of teachers as unsatisfactory, did little to root out bad teachers. Identifying and removing bad teachers has taken on increasing importance, with research showing that three years under bad teachers can negatively change a student’s academic trajectory.

Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the National Council for Teacher Quality in Washington, said she was most surprised that the pilot results showed so few teachers in need of improvement.

“If we only had 6 percent who were anything less than perfection, student achievement would probably be off the charts,” Jacobs said.

The report said the quality of teacher training was inconsistent, something Todd and King said was addressed in advance of the current pilot program.

“I really feel like the DOE has its work cut out for it to get people knowledgeable enough to make this thing fly,” said Tim Callahan, spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, the state’s largest teacher association. “It has the promise and potential to be great, but there are a lot of red flags.”

Donna Marie Aker, a math teacher at South Gwinnett High School and head of the Gwinnett Association of Educators, said she still has questions about the process, which she said appears “very subjective.”

Teachers, she said, are feeling overwhelmed with multiple major initiatives, including the rollout of the new Common Core Standards as well as the new evaluations.

Calvine Rollins, president of the Georgia Association of Educators, said she believes that, as more training takes place, the complaints will dissipate.

“As more districts begin to implement the new evaluation system, teachers and leaders will become more comfortable, and I am optimistic about the possible results,” Rollins said.

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