Maryland moved Monday to begin evaluating teachers based in part on how well their students learn their lessons — a significant change that will be tried first in seven school districts, including Baltimore city and county, this fall.
The decision, made despite opposition from teachers, keeps Maryland among a dozen jurisdictions on the forefront of efforts to hold teachers and principals more accountable for the progress of their students.
The Maryland Council for Educator Effectiveness, appointed by the governor last year to develop a new teacher and principal evaluation system, held firm on the requirement that 50 percent of a teacher's job rating will be based on student performance, though state tests would hold less weight than first anticipated.
"I think this will make the teachers and the process better in our state. We are going to look in a very serious way at the progress of students and what can we do to accelerate that," said state school superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.
After revisions, the evaluation system will take effect in the 2013-2014 school year.
"Overall, I think this has been a hard process, but on most elements we have gotten to a consensus," said Baltimore schools CEO Andres Alonso and a member of the panel. He said he liked the flexibility given to districts and is comfortable with the model, although he sees it as imperfect.
The approval came on a 13-7 vote, with all teachers on the panel voting against the new evaluation system. The teachers, many of them union representatives, voted in line with the stance of the National Education Association, which represents most teachers in the state.
Even Elizabeth Weller, vice president of the Maryland State Education Association and co-chair of the panel with Grasmick, voted against the report. Weller said the panel had agreed to disagree and that the final evaluation system will take into account what is learned during the pilot this coming school year.
"This is a beginning, not an end," she said.
Maryland is one of 11 states and the District of Columbia that won a Race to the Top grant from the U.S. Department of Education last year based in part on a commitment to pass reforms, including a new teacher evaluation system.
Maryland was supposed to have the new system in place during the 2012-2013 school year. But after discussions at the panel's meetings, the state got approval from federal officials Friday to extend the pilot into a second year.
Grasmick said Maryland isn't creating the system just to satisfy Race To The Top requirements and get the $250 million grant for a few years — only to drop it. "I want a sustainable process, a system that I think will elevate this profession," Grasmick said.
After the new evaluation system is tested in seven districts, the pilot will continue statewide the following year.
The districts that will use the system in the coming school year are Baltimore, Prince George's, St. Mary's, Kent, Charles and Queen Anne's counties and Baltimore City.
The new process gives districts flexibility in deciding what they will count as student performance and what factors they can use, but only if a district can reach a negotiatiated agreement with its teachers union. If no agreement is reached, districts must use a more restrictive system developed by the panel.
The document that describes the new process is complex, but Jim Foran, the assistant state superintendent for academic reform and innovation, said it will be "a sea change" from the way most Maryland teachers are now evaluated.
The process has several parts. Fifty percent of a teacher's evaluation is to be based on a qualitative assessment by the principal, including lesson plans, the environment of the classroom and other factors that the local school system can determine.
Another 30 percent will be determined by the state and and must include assessments such as the state test. However the state test may be only one of three assessments of student progress. The others will be chosen at least next year by the district from a long list, including unit tests called benchmarks, portfolios that include samples of student work and other factors.
The last 20 percent of the evalutaion will be chosen by the school district and will be assessments of student work as well.
Nearly three-quarters of teachers in the state teach in a subject that is not covered by state tests, so a variety of methods have to be used. The panel recommended writing samples or even small group videos of performances for drama and music teachers.
Once principals finish the the evaluation, they must rank the teachers as ineffective, effective or highly effective.
Much of the debate Monday centered on whether teachers could be considered effective if they score poorly on the portion of the evaluation that grades them on student progress. Teachers representing unions said they believed the system would be weighted too heavily in favor of student progress, but the panel's vote went against that view.