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Teacher: Georgia's new evaluation system benefits teachers and students

Kirk Shook is in his eighth year teaching social studies at North Oconee, and is now teaching AP Macroeconomics and Honors American Government. Originally from Young Harris, he has a bachelor's of science from the University of Georgia in social science education and a master's in public administration.

He writes today in response to a recent AJC Get Schooled column by Etienne R. LeGrand raising concerns about whether Georgia's new teacher evaluation system does enough to help teachers become better or simply labels them failures.

By Kirk Shook

In it, an “education strategist,” Etienne LeGrand, begins by criticizing Georgia’s new teacher evaluation system as a passing fad, or “reform du jour” in her own words, and then calls it out for not giving teachers feedback and helping them improve.

She says,

“Given how essential quality teaching is to student achievement, you’d think the state’s evaluation system would also be used to provide meaningful feedback to teachers about their skills so they might improve and build on what was learned.  Questions of fairness and efficacy arise because it doesn’t.”

It doesn’t? Is she looking at the same teacher evaluation system as the rest of us?

As a teacher working in Oconee County Schools (where we first piloted CLASS Keys, Teacher Keys, and now TKES), I wholeheartedly agree that evaluations should be a tool for helping teachers refine their skills and get better and helping our students succeed.

That’s actually one of the main reasons I support the new system, because it does include feedback as a major component, and is far more efficient than the previous evaluation tools.

It’s not like this is a secret either. One of the stated goals of the Teacher Keys Effective System (TKES) is to “provide feedback to teachers.” In this quick guide to providing effective feedback , put out by the Georgia Department of Education in June, it underscores the importance of doing so, by stating explicitly that, “Providing effective feedback is critical.”

Another quick guide  from our state DOE regarding “conferencing and feedback,” instructs evaluators that feedback must be free from interpretation, interference, and assumptions.

And in this  Frequently Asked Questions document  about TKES, feedback is mentioned six times.

As a classroom teacher, I have experienced the benefits of greater feedback from my principal, which has helped to improve my teaching, so I’m not sure how LeGrand can make a claim that the teacher evaluation system doesn’t aim to provide teachers with meaningful feedback.

Maybe it’s because she hasn’t been a classroom teacher under these various systems. Or, maybe she’s got an ulterior motive for trying to discredit a widely supported education reform. I couldn’t say.

What I do know is that an evaluation system like the one she describes actually does exist, and will benefit teachers and students in Georgia classrooms. Under previous evaluation systems (like the old GTOI), more than 95 percent of Georgia teachers earned a “satisfactory” rating every single year with no opportunity for real feedback except the broad terms of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

As much as I love and believe in public schools, we simply know that more than 95 percent of teachers probably are not “satisfactory,” and, even if they were, what benefit would that be for students if there is no effective feedback other than one checked box?

While this new tool may not be perfect, it is certainly a step in the right direction that will be beneficial for students, parents, teachers and administrators in our state.


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.