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Georgia’s teachers coming to grips with TKES

August 18, 2015

ATLANTA – As with the implementation of any new education directive, especially something as pervasive and impactful as the evaluation method called TKES (Teacher Keys Effectiveness System), there is cause for pause. The objective of TKES is to measure the effectiveness of teachers - both from objective and subjective data. Their effectiveness will be based on three components: Teacher Assessment on Performance Standards (TAPS), Surveys of Instructional Practice, and Student Growth (applies to teachers of tested and non-tested subjects - though, these are evaluated differently). Each component has its own set of particulars with objectives teachers must meet to achieve a satisfactory evaluation and be deemed effective.

Dr. Sid Chapman, president of the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE), says teachers across the state have logged concerns and criticisms related to the entire TKES evaluation process but most specifically the Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) which are part of the Student Growth component. The SLOs are the growth indicator for non-tested coursework. Its purpose is to determine the improvement of students in the classroom, along with the impact of the teacher leading the coursework. “While the SLOs are arguably the regulations that directly affect students the most,” he said, “they are also the most subjective and loosely defined.”

Chapman notes that little is known about the reliability of SLOs as well as statistics showing the effects on student progress. He says, “At minimum, it’s worth an in-depth discussion to look at reforms like these to determine if they are pushing students to progress in the right direction, or if they are simply rules for rules sake. And in addition to potentially vague requirements when it comes to student progress, there is concern about checks and balances and the possibility of subjectivity when it comes to evaluations. If there is a negative or questionable evaluation, there seems to be little recourse for teachers. GAE will be seeking remedies via the legislative process to address, among other concerns, the need for a due process system that would explore the use of peer evaluators as one component to decide if an evaluation appeal is warranted. ”

According to GAE General Counsel Mike McGonigle, another concern of the Student Growth assessment is the test used in the teacher evaluation process. “These tests were never designed to measure teacher effectiveness,” he stresses. “But state law says that at least 50 percent of the teacher evaluation shall be based on the students’ growth. So theoretically, a school district could use growth test scores for anywhere from 51 to 100 percent of a teacher’s annual evaluation. This gives school districts far too much latitude without a set of checks and balances to ensure fairness.”

In addition, McGonigle points out that the current trend in educational policy is to evaluate educators by their “value-added” even though the American Statistical Association has debunked the use of value-added models for educational assessment. “At the same time,” he says, “much of the ‘scientific research’ correlating student test scores to educator effectiveness also supports ideologically-driven measures to privatize public education such as vouchers, school ‘choice’ laws like Parent Trigger, eliminating the Fair Dismissal Act, the state salary schedule and the retirement system, to name a few examples.”

All three evaluation components (TAPS, Surveys, Student Growth) will be used to determine the results that lead to a teacher’s annual evaluation dubbed the Teacher Effectiveness Measure (TEM). Within the TEM are four rating levels used for measurement – Exemplary, Proficient, Needs Development or Ineffective. To even receive a TEM a teacher must provide instruction for at least 65 percent of the period, but that is assuming Student Growth data, which is needed, is available.

Overall, the Teacher Keys Effectiveness System is designed specifically for teachers who are responsible for specific coursework for student learning, who are full-or-part time, and teach Pre-K through 12th grade. And while there are criticisms, many teachers are still grateful something is in place that covers a broader scope of requirements. Many agree that the evaluation content in TKES is far greater than the previous evaluation system, where there was often very little qualitative feedback.

Jim Barrett, president of the Walker [County] Association of Educators, notes that“While yes, there are some glaring holes that need to be repaired in TKES, we have to remember that much of TKES is what practitioners have been requesting for many years. More specifically with regard to having a venue for documenting ourselves, and all of the ways we differentiate, build positive classroom learning environments, and lead the profession in our work and involvement.” He does however suggest that some improvements could be made, specifically in teacher-ownership of the digital platform and evaluator competencies and consistencies.

Teacher ownership of the digital platform is where teachers own their digital professional portfolio. “While a teacher is not required to place documentation in the platform unless requested to do so by an evaluator, educators need to see this as their way to show they are meeting the performance standards,” says Barrett. “By documenting and uploading everything from lesson plans, to parent contact logs, to mentoring sessions with a new educator, the platform’s design can provide educators the necessary tools and documentation to show evaluators, and themselves, what they are doing to meet the performance standards that may not always be observed during a walk through or formative assessment. From attaching thoughts on a pre-evaluation self-assessment, to commenting on my final summative assessment, it is critical that educators provide a written record and narrative that gives them a voice in their professional growth and development. Remember, if an evaluator does not see evidence of a performance standard being met during their walk throughs and assessments, they are supposed to ask for a teacher’s documentation. What will your portfolio say of you and your practice?”

“On the point of evaluator competencies and consistencies, every time an evaluator provides feedback, it is important that the educator comment on the consistency from walk through to walk through, formative to formative, evaluator to evaluator, and school to school,” says Barrett. “There is no reason for muddling through a performance with students. And likewise, there is no excuse for an evaluator to muddle through an assessment of a teacher’s performance. An evaluator’s feedback needs to be tied to the specific language of the standards, not the performance indicators. The performance standards are that for which teachers are being assessed, not the performance indicators. And for principals who have gone through alternative certification programs, now approved by the PSC, it is critical that a teacher’s individual platform tracks their competencies as instructional leaders, not through such evidence as their feedback on the technical methodology and application of teaching strategies in TKES evaluations, but in conversations and written directives throughout the year.”