NCLB waiver includes teacher evaluations for Georgia

— Georgia's 180 school districts soon may have no choice but to evaluate teachers largely on their students' progress and test scores.

That's because the U.S. Department of Education is requiring states to launch a statewide teacher evaluation system that's driven by student achievement. In exchange, the state would receive a waiver from what some say are unreasonable requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Georgia was one of the first states to ask for the federal NCLB waiver, and state officials are confident they'll get one -- possibly any day.

That would mean a big shift in the state's plans.

As part of its Race to the Top application, Georgia promised that 26 districts, including Dougherty County, would pilot a new evaluation system that could eventually be taken statewide.

The 26 districts committed to the first for the evaluation system -- and a more controversial companion pay-per-performance plan -- in exchange for a chance to share in $200 million from President Barack Obama's Race to the Top education reform initiative.

Teachers are skeptical the state can develop and put in place a fair evaluation system and are upset at the likelihood one will be mandated statewide by 2014-15 as a condition of receiving the waiver.

State officials have acknowledged Georgia's current teacher evaluation system is outdated and ineffective, making it hard to distinguish good teachers from bad. State data shows that in the past five years 99 percent of Georgia teachers received a positive rating on their evaluations.

Under the evaluation system, still in development, teachers would be rated as exemplary, proficient or developing/needs improvement.

Teachers could be shown the door with an ineffective rating.

They'd be judged, among other things, on two 30-minute principal evaluations and on their students' standardized test scores. In courses without standardized tests, such as middle school chorus and first-grade reading, student work, student surveys and lesson plans could be factored into a teacher's rating.

Georgia has proposed an alternative accountability system, known as the College and Career Ready Performance Index, that puts less emphasis on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, or any single test.

State officials also want to stop rating schools as simply passing or failing, instead using a five-star rating system and colored flags to indicate whether a school is making gains. They say that would make it easier for parents and community members to tell how a school is truly performing.

Grover "Russ" Whitehurst, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy and an expert on No Child Left Behind, said the law is clear.

"If Georgia has promised to do more in its application for a waiver than in its Race to the Top application, then it will have do that if it obtains a waiver," Whitehurst said.