“A workforce that feels devalued and constantly under pressure” — one of the many findings in the GaDOE survey of teachers this past fall

Usually I am in favor of more accountability. In any arena in which one engages, standards should be clearly defined and then upheld. However, the way we currently evaluate teachers in the state of Georgia is punitive without a proven increase in student  achievement levels.

One doesn’t have to look far to find mixed reviews of districts and cities who have experimented with some of these types of evaluation methods.

Thomas Dee, an education professor at Stanford and co-author of a recent study of the Washington D.C. schools concluded this earlier this week in a Washington Post article:

[He] acknowledged that the value-added scores meant to measure teachers’ effect on student achievement are far from precise, with potentially large margins of error and year-to-year fluctuations.

Other studies have found that value-added scores are particularly unreliable for teachers who work primarily with students who are either very low achievers or very high achievers. In other words, “the fact that a teacher with low value-added metrics in a given year leaves the teaching force does not automatically mean that a poor teacher has left,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, an education professor at Stanford.

The longer I teach and the more I research, the more I’m convinced that tests are an unreliable method of holding teachers accountable in the classroom — especially in the way that they are currently used in Georgia which is fifty percent of one’s evaluation in the Teacher Keys Effectiveness System.

As I’ve written before, our state needs to devise a way to retain effective, motivated teachers in our highest-needs schools. However, by placing so much weight on student test scores, the state discourages teachers from teaching at schools that have low scores and it reduces the educational quality of instruction by incentivizing test prep.

This is why I am so excited about new legislation that has been introduced this session. One bill (SB 364) would reduce the weight of student scores on teacher evaluations to 30% and another bill (SB 355) would reduce the weight to 10%.

Right now, according to the AJC’s Georgia Legislative Navigator, the likelihood of SB 364 passing is only 22% while the likelihood of SB 355 passing is predicted to have a 28% chance of passing.

Already teachers and teachers groups have responded favorably, and with good reason. In schools that are on the Priority and Focus Schools List for the state of Georgia (as determined by schools’ College and Career Readiness Performance Index or CCRPI), the weight placed on test scores is almost stifling, and the additional documentation burdens placed on teachers at these schools is enough to make even the highest-energy professionals feel overwhelmed.

As studies continue to show, kids in high-poverty schools perform lower than their wealthier counterparts. Along with academic setbacks, these students arrive to school with many other concerns like hunger, abuse, and neglect. Kids who struggle with these issues need highly involved, caring teachers, yet oftentimes the neediest kids end up with some of the most overworked, underappreciated, and unqualified teachers.

And test scores might still be low, even with the best teachers. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, if students’ needs are not met in the bottom four tiers, then higher level, abstract thinking cannot occur – something that is absolutely necessary for learning.

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Teacher evaluations that weigh student test scores heavily only add to the reasons teachers decide not to teach in low-performing schools, especially as pay-for-performance ideas are tossed around by Governor Deal and other proponents in Georgia and other states.

In addition to the high-stakes testing issues for core (language arts, math, social studies, and science) classes, there are also problems with evaluating teachers based on the Student Learning Objectives (or SLOs). I have heard current students in Georgia tell me that some of their teachers tell them the following before the SLO is administered:

“The test doesn’t count, so don’t worry about how you perform.”

“Do as poorly on the test as you can so that you look like you learned a lot at the end of the year.”

As one might imagine, students will randomly bubble in answers, create Christmas tree patterns with the answer bubbles, or simply click through the test until they press “Finish” without completing any answers.

Teachers are then assessed on how much “growth” their students demonstrated during their class by comparing the pre-test data to the post-test data. A flawless method indeed.

And now for the call-to-action.

I want to emphasize that reading about social and educational issues is important in order to be informed members of society. However, if we stop at reading about issues and choose not to take action, then reading is pointless.

If you want to see legislation that would reduce the weight placed on student test scores and that would begin to reduce the burden on teachers throughout the state – and especially at high-poverty schools – then contact your legislator. You can find your legislators by clicking here and entering your address.