Students will grade teachers in new evaluation method

In a role reversal of who’s grading whom, students will play a part in evaluating their teachers for a new state initiative beginning in January.

The Georgia Department of Education is piloting a teacher evaluation system in 26 districts, including Richmond County, to measure how teacher effectiveness affects student achievement.

Richmond County teachers are accustomed to being evaluated in the past from a previous rubric, but the standards now take into account student opinion, student academic growth and how principals rate a teacher’s instruction based on 10 performance standards.

In January, the pilot program will launch in only five Richmond County schools, while all of the district’s teachers will go under the evaluation in the 2012-13 school year.

“It’s going to be a reflective tool,” said Missoura Ashe, the executive director for elementary schools. “If we don’t address ineffective teaching, we’ll never grow.”

The state is introducing the evaluations to fulfill the requirements of the federal Race to the Top grant, from which Georgia received $400 million for school reform. Richmond County will receive about 16 million from the pot.

In the 2013-14 school year, the evaluations will determine performance-based pay for teachers, although its still unclear whether grades will affect salaries or monetary supplements, according to Race to the Top communications director Jon Rogers.

Rogers said the evaluation system will be more specific than what most districts now use, so that instruction methods can be fully scrutinized and improved.

“Currently, teachers are labeled either satisfactory or unsatisfactory, so I think everyone agrees the system has to be improved,” Rogers said. “We want to provide more constructive feedback for teachers and principals to say ‘Hey, this is where they’re doing great, this is where they need to improve.’ ”

In classes and grades that have standardized testing, like math and reading, teachers will be graded on their students’ growth and achievement gap reduction on those tests. For subjects like chorus that are not state tested, schools will design pre- and -post tests to measure student growth, Ashe said.

In their opinion surveys, students will anonymously grade their teachers on areas such as how much they know about the subject and how well they communicate. For lower grades, pupils will address questions like “My teacher explains things so I can understand” with smiley or sad faces. The higher grades will answer questions on a five-point agree to disagree scale, which might give teachers a brand-new outlook on how they are perceived by students.

“Students are in the classroom, so who’s better to talk about the teacher’s practices than them?” Ashe said. “Teachers will really be able to reflect, and say ‘Wow, I didn’t know my students thought that way.’ ”

For the principals’ evaluation piece, the administrators will observe teachers twice over the year for 30 minutes each. They will use a rubric of 10 standards, ranging from how well they communicate to their instruction strategies.

Jamie McCord, the principal at Jamestown Elementary School, said teachers are not afraid of the evaluations because it will give them direction on how to grow.

Although being under the microscope is stressful, McCord said her teachers have gotten used to the old methods of evaluation and many see it as a way to become better for their students.

“We want to be excellent in everything, so if I have excellent teachers my students are going to be excellent,” McCord said.

Jamestown is one of the five pilot schools to test the evaluations along with Glenn Hills Middle, Morgan Road Middle, C.T. Walker Traditional Magnet and Academy of Richmond County. The schools, like all the pilot schools in the 26 districts, were chosen at random by the state.

Despite the benefits, evaluations often spark intense debate among educators for their accuracy and fairness. Race to the Top teacher-lead adviser Katherine Wood, whose job is to give a teachers’ opinion amid Race to the Top implementation, said the evaluations still give important insight.

“The more perspective on a teacher that we can get, the better,” Wood said. “To have student perception, to have the observations and for the student growth to be taken into account, it paints a bigger picture.”

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