Effective teaching can be found in the paper trail of standardized test scores in addition to the inspirational stories told at graduation.
Good teaching also can be measured with a formula using data and numbers, or is success better proved after students leave the classroom?
“An effective teacher can be measured not only by their results on a test but in the impact that you have on that child’s life and beyond,” said Crystal Gaines, a teacher at John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School. “To me, I know I’ve been effective when I still have that relationship with them after they leave my classroom because it goes beyond academics.”
As intangible as good teaching can be, state officials are working to create a measurement system that identifies which teachers are affecting student success and which are holding students back. The 2012-13 term is the first year of implementation of the Teacher Keys Effectiveness System, which uses classroom observations, student surveys and student academic growth to measure a teacher’s effectiveness.
“There was a time when an administrator would go in the classroom, you’d look at the bulletin board, you’d see if the students were extremely quiet, but it’s not like that anymore,” said Missoura Ashe, Richmond County’s executive director of elementary schools. “This is more specific, more in-depth. You are to score a teacher based on what’s evident. Not what you think but what you see.”
The process began early in the school year with teacher self-assessments and continued with principals’ observations. This month, the Richmond County School System is in the midst of the student feedback component, in which students take a 15-question survey that asks such things as, “Does my teacher encourage me to participate in class?” Students answer with a four-point rubric ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree.
Teachers don’t see the students’ names or how one student answered all the questions, but can view how many students gave the same answer.
“I love it because for me, as a teacher, if there are ways I need to grow so I can teach my kids better, I want to do that,” said Pine Hill Middle School English/language arts teacher Leslie LaPrise. “I know what I’m good at, but a lot of times I need feedback on where I need to grow.”
Along with student surveys, administrators must observe each teacher based on 10 instruction standards several times a year, in addition to four more casual, unscored walk-throughs.
For subjects that have yearly standardized tests, the growth a student makes will be compared to scores from the year before.
In subjects that aren’t tested, such as chorus or physical education, student growth will be measured in before-and-after tests.
The data from principals’ observations, student surveys and test scores is compiled in the Teacher Keys Effectiveness System online platform for teachers, who can log in to the system and review their evaluation at any point in the year. LaPrise also uploads video and photos of her instruction to her profile to give more information to her principal and to store ideas.
Dana Rickman, the director of policy and research for the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, said the evaluation system is mostly a tool for reflection and can help teachers grow in areas they didn’t realize were lacking.
“The way they wanted this accountability system to work was to be a learning tool for teachers and not so much a ‘Gotcha, you’re not a good teacher,’ ” Rickman said. “It’s more like, ‘Here’s the areas where you’re strong, and here’s where you need work.’ ”
The state is still determining how to calculate a final score, or effectiveness measure, when the observations, student surveys and student growth components are combined at the end of the year, according to Avis King, the deputy superintendent in the state Office of School Improvement.
Also uncertain is how outstanding scores will be rewarded, whether with merit pay, salary increases or a pat on the back.
“That would take, I believe, legislation or a big change,” King said of merit pay. “Our focus right now is making sure these effectiveness systems are the best they can be.”
Even without merit pay, LaPrise said, constructive feedback is a reward in itself, giving teachers more specific direction on how to improve their instruction.
Having taught in Maryland and other states, LaPrise said other states’ evaluation pieces can be threatening and punitive. But an opportunity to work with a principal to discuss strategy and hear feedback from students broadens her perspective.
“When you feel like your job is on the line, you feel like you have to defend yourself,” she said. “But in a system where your job is safe, it’s easy to hear ‘This is where you need to improve.’ It’s easy to be open to improvement.”