Kimberly Wills, a sixth-grade math teacher at Murphey Middle School, says a new teacher evaluation model is doing what its name implies: helping her key in on the areas she should focus on when teaching students.
"It communicates clearly what's expected of you," she said about the new method, CLASS Keys, that was piloted this school year at Murphey.
CLASS stands for Classroom Analysis of State Standards, and it focuses on five "keys" to teacher quality: curriculum and planning, standards-based instruction, assessment of student learning, professionalism and student achievement.
Starting next school year, the piloted appraisal process, which recently received school board approval, will be implemented at 27 Richmond County schools.
Wills thinks of the new assessment as a teachers' version of the Georgia Performance Standards, a set of learning expectations for students started five years ago.
"It's a very complete evaluation system," Virginia Bradshaw, the executive director of middle schools, said about CLASS Keys, noting that schools that don't implement the process next year will do so the year after that.
Wills said the tool for teachers is better than the old model because it gives input on areas for improvement several times throughout the year. The old method had one appraisal at the end of the school year.
Teachers are gauged in certain areas for the purpose of improvement and accountability. Their skills are rated not evident, emerging, proficient or exemplary.
For example, an area teachers might be judged on whether he or she "makes decisions about planning that demonstrate understanding of content knowledge, pedagogy, and the implementation of the required curriculum or Georgia Performance Standards," according to a state report on the process.
Other areas of focus in the appraisal include whether the teacher: plans interdisciplinary instruction and makes connections to the real world; consistently uses research-based practices in the classroom; uses accessible technology effectively to enhance learning; effectively communicates learning expectations; and provides effective feedback or commentary on student performance.
Wills said she's noticed a difference in the last area. She said that rather than writing "good job" on a student's paper, the new standard calls for teachers to provide detailed information about why it was good.
"Are you providing effective commentary, or are you just writing 'good job'? " she said of what's expected. "What does 'good job' mean?"
Wills said teachers have been taking classes this school year on the new process, and she said she believes many teachers will ultimately embrace the appraisal format.
"At first, with every change there comes bumps in the road," she said, "but I do believe as people give it a chance they'll see this is actually what they want."