New approach benefits students, teachers

Kirk Shook is in his eighth year teaching social studies at North Oconee, and is teaching AP Macroeconomics and Honors American Government. Originally from Young Harris, he has a bachelor’s of science from the University of Georgia in social science education and a master’s in public administration.

Education strategist Etienne LeGrand begins her column by criticizing Georgia’s new teacher evaluation system as a passing fad, or “reform du jour” in her own words, and then calls it out for not giving teachers feedback and helping them improve.

She says, “Given how essential quality teaching is to student achievement, you’d think the state’s evaluation system would also be used to provide meaningful feedback to teachers about their skills so they might improve and build on what was learned. Questions of fairness and efficacy arise because it doesn’t.”

It doesn’t? Is she looking at the same teacher evaluation system as the rest of us?

As a teacher working in the Oconee County Schools — where we first piloted CLASS Keys, Teacher Keys and now the Teacher Keys Effectiveness System — I wholeheartedly agree evaluations should be a tool for helping teachers refine their skills and help our students succeed.

That’s one of the main reasons I support the new system, because it does include feedback as a major component, and is far more efficient than the previous evaluation tools.

It’s not like this is a secret, either. One of the stated goals of the Teacher Keys Effective System is to “provide feedback to teachers.”

In the quick guide to providing effective feedback put out by the Georgia Department of Education in June, it underscores the importance of doing so, stating explicitly that “providing effective feedback is critical.” Another quick guide from our state DOE, regarding “conferencing and feedback,” instructs evaluators that feedback must be free of interpretation, interference and assumptions.

And in the Frequently Asked Questions document about the Teacher Keys Effectiveness System, feedback is mentioned six times.

As a classroom teacher, I have experienced the benefits of greater feedback from my principal, which has helped to improve my teaching, so I’m not sure how anyone can make a claim that the teacher evaluation system doesn’t aim to provide teachers with meaningful feedback.

Maybe it's because critics haven't been a classroom teacher under these various evaluation methods, so they don't understand the differences and improvements in the Teacher Keys Effectiveness System. Or maybe they have an ulterior motive for trying to discredit a widely supported education reform. I couldn't say.

However, I do know that what critics like LeGrand consider a better evaluation system — one that focuses on helping teachers get better rather than simply labeling them as bad — actually exists now in Georgia and will benefit teachers and students in our classrooms.

Under previous evaluation systems, more than 95 percent of Georgia teachers earned a “satisfactory” rating every year, with no opportunity for real feedback except the broad terms of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.” As much as I love and believe in public schools, we simply know that more than 95 percent of teachers probably are not “satisfactory.” Even if they were, what benefit would that be for students if there is no effective feedback other than one checked box?

While this new tool may not be perfect, it is certainly a step in the right direction that will be beneficial for students, parents, teachers and administrators.