When Bulloch County public schools start hiring new teachers for the 2013-14 school year, those applicants will have an extra step their peers in previous years have not.
After discussing the idea during the past few meetings, the school board on Thursday approved, by a 6-2 margin, granting three one-year contracts to Gallup TeacherInsight Assessment. This is an online test, which takes about 45 minutes, that all teacher applicants in districts using the program have to take to be considered for an interview.
Kevin Judy, the school system’s assistant superintendent for human resources, said the program costs about $18,000 a year, a price that is based on the district’s enrollment. He said the three one-year contracts — a total of $54,000 — would give the district flexibility to opt out sooner if it found the program wasn’t working as hoped.
According to Gallup’s website, https://gx.gallup.com/teacherinsight.gx, the online assessment asks multiple-choice questions designed to measure teacher applicants’ talent — and, therefore, potential for success in the classroom — based on their answers.
“TeacherInsight is fair because all applicants are asked exactly the same questions and they are evaluated exactly the same way,” the website says. “The questions have been thoroughly researched and tested to be sure they identify potentially superior teachers.”
The program “does not replace personal interviews, but by efficiently identifying the best potential teachers, district representatives are able to spend more time with these promising candidates and conduct more productive personal interviews.”
Judy said the district will use it not for final decisions, but as an initial screening of teacher applicants. It will prove particularly useful in streamlining — and making more objective — the selection process for positions that attract a high number of applicants, he said.
Judy gave the example of Mill Creek Elementary. Going into this school year, the school had four open teaching positions, which drew a total of 91 applicants.
“This is really more for the (positions drawing) 70-100 applicants, when 40-50 of (the applicants) are first-year teachers coming out of college,” he said. “How do you know which one of those is better than the next one without it being a fear of politics involvement?”
Superintendent Charles Wilson said Gallup’s methodology appears to be more objective than the traditional way of sorting through piles of applications for open positions.
“Right now — I’m not trying to be disrespectful to anybody that does it, but the best way I can explain it is, it’s sort of a random approach, a best guess based on who the applicants are. If I don’t know who they are, I’m gonna look at it,” he said, describing how a principal or other person with hiring authority might approach the process. “I might recognize somebody’s name. With human nature, we’re subject to making flawed decisions.”
Once the final group is selected, those applicants would be personally interviewed, as has been the district’s practice, Judy said.
“I think this is something we can do to help our principals. Several of the principals I’ve talked to already thought I was in the process of getting this done and were excited about it. I told them, ‘No, it’s coming to a vote,’” Judy said. “They’re wanting this. They’re wanting something to help them so they don’t have someone in the community who’s constantly in their ear saying, ‘You need to interview this, you need to interview this person.’”
The hiring season tends to begin in spring and run through the beginning of the following school year. This is when most teachers who don’t stay in their positions make decisions to retire, transfer to another district or leave, creating openings that need to be filled.
Board member Dr. LeVon Wilson, who along with member Anshul Jain voted against the TeacherInsight contract, asked whether the program limits principals to the “crème de la crème, or the highest-scoring applicants.”
Judy responded that would be the first ranking, but that principals would be able to go lower down the list — according to the program’s rankings — if the highest-scoring applicants do not have the specific qualifications needed for the job. He cited, for example, a principal who might be looking for a teacher with an English for Speakers of Other Languages endorsement, but none of the top-ranked candidates had that credential.
He added that the district will track how the teachers who are hired through the system perform, using such measures as state test scores and student survey results.
Jason Wermers may be reached at (912) 489-9431.