Will Georgia's 'Class Keys' unlock the door to better instruction?

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Among states and local school districts, there is tremendous variation in the ways that teachers get evaluated, both in terms of the instrument that schools use and the frequency in which evaluations must occur. In spite of the variety, it?s probably safe to say that most schools evaluate teachers using an approach that Thomas Toch and Robert Rothman term "drive-bys" in their recent report Rush to Judgment.

Georgia may be breaking with the pack, provided it can persuade districts to use its new teacher evaluation system, the Classroom Analysis of State Standards, or Class Keys. (Don?t confuse this with another teacher evaluation tool with a similar acronym, the Classroom Assessment Scoring System.) If nothing else, Georgia?s innovative system will require intensive classroom observation, in contrast to districts in some states in which teachers are observed in their classroom as little as once every five years (see the report on teacher evaluation in NCTQ's TR3 "Teacher Rules, Roles and Rights" database). In districts that choose to use Class Keys, teacher supervisors will observe teachers multiple times during the year, with each visit lasting longer than the norm, which is customarily the length of your average coffee break.

The nuts and bolts of the evaluation system itself are not yet available, but a state spokesman described it as a "more detailed tool to evaluate teaching." Whatever its particulars, Class Keys will more than likely assess teachers on a lot of factors that we all think, but do not really know, correlate with student achievement. That's the fatal flaw of almost all teacher evaluation systems, even the newest and most sophisticated ones. Georgia should scramble now to assess how well Class Keys correlates with a teacher?s ability to have an impact on student performance. Or it can be content to send us all down that familiar garden path yet again.