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New evaluation system causes concern
Evaluating teachers is an every-day duty for St. Simons Island Elementary Principal Suzanne Clements.

Whether she is conducting a formal in-class evaluation, having an informal meeting with a teacher or taking a look at student projects, Clements keeps notes on teacher performance.

"I think the system we have here in Glynn County works very well," Clements said. "We give (teachers) a lot of opportunity to show us what they're doing."

As pleased as she is with the current system used in Glynn County, though, Clements is just as hesitant about what teacher evaluations may become across the state.

A pilot program that incorporates student achievement in the teacher evaluation process, introduced in 26 Georgia counties last year under President Obama's Race to the Top initiative, is now being used in 50 school systems in the state.

The program evaluates teachers under the Teacher Keys system, which is the basis for Glynn County's self-developed system, minus the student achievement link.

The pilot, a work in progress, is setting the stage for a state mandated evaluation system that will likely base part of its evaluation for teachers on their students' standardized test scores. The evaluations could then determine teacher salary.

Incorporating student achievement is something the state must do to continue operating under the College and Career Ready Performance Index, Georgia's waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law.

While Clements said student achievement and progress are considered when evaluating teachers, basing an evaluation largely on students' standardized test scores may not give an accurate picture of how well a teacher is doing.

"I really have mixed feelings about it," Clements said. "I don't know that it is necessarily fair."

Test scores offer a good indicator of how much a student knows but do not always show how a student has progressed throughout the year, she said.

Opposition to the idea of basing teacher evaluations and salary largely on student achievement has been making headlines recently. The Chicago Teachers Union went on strike in part over its concern that basing 35 percent of a teacher's evaluation on student performance does not take into account external factors like poverty, homelessness and domestic violence.

It is unlikely the issue will go that far in Georgia, but Assistant Superintendent for Student Achievement Ricky Rentz does think a new mandated evaluation system may be in place statewide by next school year.

"They are picking up the pace a bit with developing it," Rentz said.

He said Glynn County chose not to adopt the pilot system because it will likely change before the new statewide system is introduced. Teachers are going through enough change with the adoption of the new Common Core Georgia Performance Standards curriculum, Rentz said.

Once the new evaluation system is in place with standardized test scores as a measure of effectiveness, Rentz is concerned special education teachers and those with a lot of remedial students may be incorrectly labeled as doing a poor job.

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