About 100 Baltimore educators rallied at city school headquarters Monday, protesting last-minute changes to their evaluation system that the teachers union vowed it would fight to reverse. But district officials say doing so would result in "lower standards" in the classroom.
The protest, which culminated a tumultuous school year that included an avalanche of snow days and reforms, was in response to the district changing what are called "cut scores" in the rubric that rates teachers "highly effective," "effective," "developing," and "ineffective."
The district changed the scores from what was originally agreed upon, resulting in teachers being knocked down on the rating scale. We detailed the changes, and a grievance filed by the union to get them reversed, in a story last week.
The union said it did not agree to the changes, which affects several teachers' ability to get pay raises and in the case of first-year teachers, could cost them their jobs.
Union leaders on Monday said that fair evaluations were a national issue that the American Federation of Teachers, the national parent group of the Baltimore Teachers Union was fighting, and they would make Baltimore a battleground for the issue if they had to.
"We're bringing every expense to make sure that Baltimore gets a fair evaluation system," said Loretta Johnson, the secretary-treasurer of the AFT and longtime BTU leader.
The district said last week that it was willing to go back to the table on the cut scores, and that the changes came as a result of legislation that wasn't passed until May allowing the district to opt out of using test scores in evaluations.
But in a statement Monday, interim CEO Tisha Edwards said that the union's demand that the cut scores revert back to the original structure was unreasonable. It would result in about 97 percent of teachers being rated "highly effective" or "effective," she said.
"Unfortunately, the current BTU position is to lower the standards by which teachers are evaluated, which would represent a serious setback for all of our students, as well as our best teachers," Edwards said. "While such a high percentage of classroom excellence is certainly our goal, the reality is that the standards proposed in the union’s position are neither rigorous nor fair."
At the rally Monday, many chided Edwards for the upheaval the changes have caused in the district two weeks before she leaves the job as the interim CEO. An oversized card for incoming schools CEO Gregory Thornton was being constructed during the rally.
Teachers and union leaders said they took issue not with how the evaluation was calculated, but with the district changing the rules mid-year.
"I would like the same courtesy as any student I teach...I set a criteria at the beginning of the school year and help them succeed," said Shannon Guth, who has taught for 11 years at Digital Harbor High, and missed a "highly effective" rating by 1/2 point.
Every other year, she had received the highest marks on her evaluation, Guth said. This year, she said, she will not receive a pay raise as a result of the changes.
Teachers were not notified until June 2, when year-end evaluations were handed out, that the rubric had changed.
Under the original system proposed at the start of the school year, a score of 80 would give a teacher a "highly effective" rating. Under the new scores that score would be "effective." Many teachers who would have fallen into the "effective" category found themselves placed in the "developing." The worst rating a teacher could receive was an "ineffective."
For first-year teachers who went through alternatively certified programs, such as Teach for America or the Baltimore City Teaching Residency, an "ineffective" rating means they lose certification under Maryland law. Some teachers who would have been "developing" under the original system have found themselves in that position.
For many others, the changes took the biggest toll on morale.
Among the teachers affected was Nick McDaniels, a teacher at Merganther Vo-Tech, and a finalist for the district's 2014 Teacher of the Year. His score of 84 would have rated him "highly effective" under the original system, but only "effective" under the new one.
McDaniels also served on the evaluation committee that came up with the rubric and told the crowd that "not a word of what we talked about in those meetings came out in the evaluation."
He said his principal didn't complete a section of "professional standards" that accounted for 15 percent of his evaluation, and wasn't allowed to finish.
"One month they're telling me I'm one of the top three teachers in the district," McDaniels said, "and the next month they're telling me I'm not worthy of a pay raise. It's just so demoralizing."