Catching up with Georgia's teacher evaluation turmoil

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From cheating scandals to getting slapped with the fed's high-risk status for its Race to the Top application, Georgia's educators sure know how to grab a headline. In case you've gotten lost in their recent teacher evaluation back-and-forth, here's a rundown:

About a month ago, Georgia state education officials tested the waters for a partial retreat from their Race to the Top grant application promises. Central to their application was a progressive teacher evaluation system factoring in student performance and student survey results, among other measures. Student surveys recently have received a lot of attention, as reform-minded districts and organizations take a stab at including them in comprehensive evaluation systems. Georgia's proposed system was slated to have survey results account for 10 percent of a teacher's evaluation, making it the first state to incorporate student feedback in formal evaluations. However, following a state technical advisory committee's analysis, Georgia backpedaled, formally requesting that all surveys become purely informational in nature.

This request came at about the same time that 38 education researchers across Georgia issued an open letter decrying the plan's inclusion of student growth measures in the new evaluation system. The researchers called on the governor, state education officials, and superintendents of districts receiving RTTT funds to return the money, or at a minimum, extend their pilots and reduce or eliminate the percentage of student growth in the evaluation system. So far, no district superintendents have sought to relinquish their funds, as the Jones County superintendent did in 2010.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education accepted Georgia's request to remove the use of student surveys in grades K-2, but took a hard line on all other counts, threatening to deduct over $33 million of the $400 million awarded to Georgia if they failed to follow through on the remainder of their plan. In particular, the U.S. DOE called out Georgia's state education officials for submitting amendments of a significant nature prior to evaluating pilot year data. The relevant portion of Georgia's Race to the Top application was classified as high-risk, and to protect their promised funds, state education officials are expected to submit a revised work plan by the end of this month.

In a recent speech in Atlanta, Bill Gates called for caution and care when implementing new evaluation systems, but held strong to his foundation's findings that good teacher evaluation systems will incorporate observations, student growth measures and student surveys. Georgia should hold strong too.

Laura Johnson