A pilot program launched a few years ago with federal funds will serve as a roadmap for districts after the General Assembly in recent weeks passed legislation approving the statewide plan. Gov. Nathan Deal is expected to sign the bill into law, and state education officials are working with local districts to prepare for the new system, to be implemented in every district by the 2014-15 school year.
“A big piece of this is professional learning,” said Avis King, deputy superintendent with the Georgia Department of Education. “What tools do these teachers and principals need to become better? And how can we support and provide that for them?”
Georgia is the latest state to move toward a standardized evaluation system, as advocates around the country have pushed for the change. In addition, funding to help develop the systems has been provided by the Obama administration under programs such as Race to the Top that are designed to encourage and reward states for implementing certain reforms.
In Georgia, evaluations will be divided 50 percent on student growth and achievement and 50 percent on other factors, including classroom observations and student surveys.
“Now we have a growth model that really honors the impact that teachers have on student performance,” said Robin Gay, director of teacher and leader effectiveness with the Department of Education. “Yes, we want all of our students to perform and be at mastery level. It may come over time.”
State education leaders say the system is needed to ensure teachers receive consistent feedback and direction. Critics of the current system say the varying standards typically resulted in satisfactory ratings with no emphasis on improvement. An initial review of a portion of the new system has shown a similar trend — nearly 94 percent of teachers in the first year of the pilot program received a rating of proficient or exemplary, with about 6 percent rated ineffective or developing/needs improvement.
State officials say the large percentage of positive scores indicates a need for further training and monitoring by the Department of Education. Other states have reported similar results with their new systems. Supporters say the change represents a major shift and it will take time for evaluators to adjust.
In Georgia, education officials say the system will allow for better recognition of the most effective teachers and school leaders because there will be shared data to analyze. The legislation does not mandate merit pay, but the evaluations will be a factor in decisions on retention, promotion, compensation and dismissals.