By Guest Columnist DANA RICKMAN, director of policy and research for the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education
All families want their children to be taught by a great teacher. They intuitively understand what an entire body of academic research tells us: a child’s education depends largely on the quality of his or her teacher. Families know who those teachers are. They call the school before the year begins to make sure their child is put in a certain class.
Within the school itself, it seems clear who the outstanding teachers are, which teachers need extra help, and which are just biding their time until retirement. If casually asked, most principals could probably list their top five teachers without thinking too hard about it.
Despite this common knowledge that everybody knows a good teacher when they see one, historically, states and districts have not had good teacher evaluation systems that could measure the difference between excellent and poor teachers, much less highlight areas of weakness or strengths or provide professional feedback.
Over the past several years, Georgia has been a leader in the development and implementation of a new teacher evaluation system. This new system is one of Georgia’s primary accomplishments under the Race to the Top grant. In addition to being able to distinguish between good, great, and ineffective teachers, the primary focus of the new system is to help improve instruction and to better design professional development activities to meet teacher needs.
The change in teacher evaluation is part of a broader education reform plan being implemented in Georgia that includes changes in standards, student assessment systems, school accountability measures and a host of other instructional practices to keep pace with the new 21st century classrooms. These classrooms take advantage of technology, focus on STEM, and on-line learning. This plan fits together like a puzzle. The outside edges always help define the size and shape of the picture being assembled. The defining edges of what is happening in Georgia can be described by four questions:
- What do we teach?
- How do we know students are learning?
- Are teachers effectively delivering the instruction?
- Who makes sure all that happens?
Previous columns here addressed the first two questions: What do we teach? How do we know students are learning? This article examines the third question in detail: How do we know if teachers are effectively delivering the instruction?
Once the state has established what students should know — related to if students are learning the material — is how effectively it is being delivered in the classroom. With the increased standards and focus on student assessments, teaching has changed.
The instructional delivery must be aligned to standards and students must be engaged in problem solving. Georgia has developed a new evaluation system to ensure there is an effective teacher in every classroom. This system is based on a combination of classroom observations, surveys and student academic progress (i.e. how much a student learned within the year).
The goal of this new system is to help educators grow professionally, thereby contributing to student learning. The system is designed to provide teachers with meaningful feedback and support continuous improvement and development.
Moreover, this evaluation system will have implications for how we train and promote teachers. These evaluation results will ultimately inform decisions related to professional development and management decisions.
The Georgia legislature recently passed a law not only requiring all school districts to use the evaluation system, but they must also base decisions regarding: retention, promotion, compensation, dismissals, and other staffing decisions, including transfers, placement and preferences in reduction in force.
Finally,c an individual who receives any combination of two unsatisfactory, ineffective, or needs development performance measures within a five year period will be unable to renew their professional certificate.
Georgia leads the way in this relatively new policy area of teacher evaluation systems. However, while these systems can be used to weed out ineffective teachers, it must be remembered the primary purpose of these policies is to improve the practice of every teacher in every classroom.
These types of evaluation systems help ensure all students have an effective teacher and all students have the opportunity to reach their highest potential. The ability to differentiate between levels of effectiveness is necessary to ensure our students are college and career ready when they graduate high school. Georgia should stay the course and continue to support implementation and training around the proper use of the evaluation systems.
This is the third in a series of entries that detail the four defining edges of Georgia’s education reform puzzle. Stay tuned for the final discussion: Who makes it all happen? This issue, as well as other key education issues, is addressed in the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education’s Top Ten Issues to Watch in 2014 report.