The Maryland State Department of Education has made a new round of revisions to its plans under the federal Race to the Top program to tie student achievement to educator effectiveness, but the U.S. Department of Education has expressed concern about the state's ability to implement the radically new system that is due to be rolled out this fall.

In a letter sentto state officials last month, USDE approved a series of tweaks the state has made to its application, the majority of which altered how much weight will be given to various student achievement measures that will account for half of an educators' evaluation.

But the approvals were contingent upon a slew of conditions. A critical condition was that the state had to provide by Jan. 7, an extensive plan for implementing and evaluating its statewide field test of the evaluations in the 2012-2013 school year.

The department warned that it, "is concerned about the overall strategic planning, implementation, and evaluation of the State’s teacher and principal evaluation system, including the quality of the SY 2011-2012 seven-LEA pilot as well as communication with and supports provided to participating [local districts.]

In its letter, USDE officials also warned that if the state does not comply with conditions of its approvals, it will enforce sanctions, including withholding nearly $38 million it awarded the state to create and implement the new evaluation system.

Maryland won millions in the federal Race to the Top competition two years ago, during which it  committed to overhauling its evaluation system in making student test scores and other achievement measures account for 50 percent of an educators' evaluation. 

Such evaluations were piloted in a handful of districts, including Baltimore City, last year. The new system will be implemented state-wide in the fall.

But as state, local and union leaders continue to hammer out details of the new system--and the state transitions to a new growth measure that will replace "adequate yearly progress,"--officials are still refining how the 50 percent will round out.

For example, the state's original RTTT proposal for evaluating English/Language Arts and mathematics teachers in grades three through eight was: 30 percent test scores, 10 percent would be based on team-based student growth, and 10 percent on school-wide progress in closing achievement gaps.

The new amendments will have student growth on the Maryland School Assessments account for 20 percent of an evaluation for an English/Language Arts or mathematics teacher evaluation, with 20 percent determined by "student learning objectives," and 10 percent by the new "school performance index."

To read a summary of the most recent amendments to how the 50 percent will break down for all teachers and principals, click here.

Bill Reinhard, spokesman for MSDE, said that Maryland was in the midst of a field test of its evaluation system.

"As with the pilots that took place in seven systems last year, we are learning a great deal," Reinhard said. "We will continue to make improvements in the system before it goes into effect in the fall."

He added that the state has collaborated with union leaders, and is hopeful about the statewide launch.

"It really has been a partnership from the outset, which is why we are confident that the system will fully compliant with federal guidelines.  The result will be better schools and better classrooms for students.”

erica.green@baltsun.com

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