Maryland is among three states flagged by the U.S. Department of Education for significant delays in implementing federal Race to the Top programs in the last two years, namely in overhauling its evaluation system to tie educator effectiveness to student achievement.
In state-specific progress reports to be released Friday, officials examined the progress of 12 states that won a large infusion of cash in exchange for committing to drastic and innovative reforms to raise achievement. The federal Race to the Top competition was a trademark of President Barack Obama's education package in his first term.
In a conference call with reporters, USDE officials said that year-two progress reports not only looked at whether states are sticking to their committed time-frame — Maryland is about three months behind — but the quality of the reforms being implemented. States were only measured against commitments outlined in their own applications and were not ranked.
"Maryland has taken some key steps to overcome barriers to implementing their comprehensive reform plans, and we remain committed to supporting their engagement in this hard work," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement. "However, we need all states to show results, and the slow pace of Maryland’s progress needs to dramatically accelerate over the second half of the grant."
Maryland has not moved into "high-risk" status for losing its grant like Georgia has. But officials said they were heavily monitoring Maryland, Georgia and Washington, D.C., which all needed to make significant strides to catch up.
In its first two years, Maryland saw the most significant delays in launching its new evaluation system for principals and teachers — which will have student test scores and other achievement measures account for 50 percent of a rating.
The state also experienced challenges with technology for new instructional support programs, and in developing new state tests.
The planning for field tests of the evaluations fell behind schedule, officials said, and after the evaluations were piloted in seven districts last year, officials said the state was not able to collect consistent data. Officials also said they "didn't have a good sense of what was being implemented" due to a lack of leadership at the state level.
Full implementation of the new evaluation system is slated for the 2013-2014 school year.
USDE officials said that with the appointment of new State Superintendent Lillian Lowery — who started her post in July — they were hopeful the state would catch up.
"The new team knows they have to move things pretty dramatically," a department official said, adding that the state has very quickly gotten back on track.
Officials also noted that the state has seen significant success in the last two years on areas such as transitioning to the common core standards, building better data systems, targeting interventions at its lowest-performing schools, enhancing its science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum, and working toward greater accountability for charter schools.
"Maryland’s primary goal with Race to the Top has been improved student learning, and we are starting to see the fruits of this labor," Lowery said in a statement. "This is a mid-term report, and the fact is our project is well into Year 3 at this point. We have made further strides since this report was completed."