A portion of Georgia’s $400 million Race to the Top school grant has been labeled as “high risk” by the U.S. Department of Education.
In a letter to Gov. Nathan Deal, the federal department said more than $33 million could be withheld because of proposed changes to the state’s new teacher evaluation system.
“The Department is concerned about the overall strategic planning, evaluation, and project management for that system, which includes decisions regarding the quality of the tools and measures used during the educator evaluation pilot and the scalability of the supports the state offered to participating districts,” wrote Ann Whalen, director of the policy and program implementation and support unit for the federal department.
Since the federal approval of the original plan last July, Georgia has requested three “major amendments,” including changing how student surveys are used to evaluate teachers.
State officials are looking at scrapping evaluations by kindergarten to second-grade students, arguing that ratings by children so young would likely be positive and not reliable. They also want surveys by older students to be informational and to not count as 10 percent of a teacher’s formal evaluation, as originally planned.
Federal officials said Georgia must submit a revised plan by Aug. 1, addressing timelines, implementation and how data and feedback from educators will be used for changes before full implementation in the 2013-14 school year.
Rockdale County Public Schools is among the 26 school system in the state that piloted the program earlier this year.
The original system proposed teachers be evaluated under four categories: class observation, student surveys, test scores and narrowing of achievement gaps.
Georgia wants to change how it calculates the surveys and how to make the test scores equitable for teachers across various subjects.
The federal department essentially wants Georgia to stick with the original plan or provide more information as to why it wants to amend some areas.
The federal department also feels that Georgia has jumped the gun with some changes without having all the details from the pilots.
Money will not be taken from salaries for poor performance, nor will the system be used for hiring or firing.
The Associated Press and The Gainesville Times contributed to this article.