Race to the Top states are having differing degrees of success with what has turned out to be one of the toughest tasks required by the Obama administration's marquee competitive-grant program: crafting new teacher evaluations that take student performance into account, according to a report released today by the Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative arm.
Sustaining the new evaluation systems is going to be a tall order, nearly all Race to the Top states report released Wednesday. But overall, most Race to the Top states are happy with the level of support they're getting from the U.S. Department of Education.
What else did GAO find? Here's your cheat sheet:
• By the end of the 2012-13 school year, six of the 12 recipients of a piece of the original $4 billion Race to the Top fund had fully implemented their teacher and principal evaluation systems. Those at full implementation are: Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Tennessee. Three of the six met the actual target date specified in their application, while three of them were given extensions, so they could improve their systems. For instance, one of the late-comers, Delaware, used the extra time to develop measures that would capture student growth. That resulted in a better evaluation system in the long run, state officials told GAO.
• The other six recipients—Hawaii, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Massachusetts, and Georgia (the last of which had a piece of its grant taken away for slipping up on, you guessed it, teacher evaluation) are at least partway there, GAO found. During the 2012-13 school year, each of those six were in the "pilot" or "partial implementation" stage of putting their new evaluation systems in place. Did that put them behind the eight ball? In some cases it did—four of the six states that were in the test-run phase last school year initially had hoped to have their evaluation systems fully implemented by that point.
• States still piloting evaluation systems are at different stages of the game. For instance, 30 percent of Hawaii's teachers are using new system, while just 14 percent of teachers in Race to the Top-participating districts in Maryland are involved in the pilot. And the variance within Maryland is pretty big—in some districts 100 percent of the teachers are involved in the pilot, in others it's just 4 percent.
• Officials in eight of the 12 states had a tough time figuring out how to hold teachers in non-tested subjects (like social studies and the arts) accountable for student growth.
• Another big challenge? Making sure that principals are consistent in their evaluations. Six out of the 12 cited this as an issue. For instance, officials in Tennessee and in two North Carolina districts noted that some teachers with great performance ratings had low scores when it comes to student growth. Six states are trying to fix these issues by offering more training to principals.
• Eleven of the 12 noted that it's been tough to address teachers' concerns about the new systems and the fast pace of change. For instance, some Maryland teachers don't think these new growth systems are valid. Teachers in a small district in an unspecified state worried about privacy. And other teachers worried about putting the new evaluation systems in place at a time when standards and tests are changing, thanks to the Common Core State Standards.
• In some cases, the money provided by Race to the Top wasn't sufficient to cover the cost of new evaluations. Districts had to kick in their own funding. In some cases, that's meant big money—one rural New York district had to pony up nearly $63,000 of its own cash in addition to the nearly $23,000 it got from Race to the Top.
•Sustaining these new evaluation systems after the Race to the Top grants are finished in coming years is going to be tough sledding, 10 out of the 12 grant winners say. For example, state education departments might no longer be able to pay staff members who were charged with helping out with implementation.
• So how is the Education Department doing when it comes to monitoring Race to the Top states? Really well, apparently. Eight of the dozen winners gave the department generally high marks for their help. The GAO report actually uses words like "collaborative," "useful," "well-informed," and "thorough" in describing the department's monitoring.
U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee asked for this report last year. Kline is not a huge fan of the Race to the Top program—he didn't include language continuing it in his bill to renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, approved by the U.S. House of Representatives with only GOP-support, earlier this year.
Kline's office had no immediate comment on the report.