The number of Maryland public school teachers who were rated ineffective in the classroom last year tripled to more than 1,200 out of a workforce of 43,800, according to statistics released Tuesday by the state Department of Education.
Under a new evaluation system that uses student achievement to help identify struggling teachers, about 56 percent of teachers were found to be effective and 41 percent were highly effective. Three percent were ineffective.
State school officials cautioned that more analysis is needed to determine how valid the data will be in helping to improve instruction.
"This is a first-time effort. We are learning," said Dave Volrath, planning and development officer for the state Department of Education. Parents "should be patient with the school district and their school, giving time to analyze the data to improve teacher and principal performance."
The data included teacher performance during the 2013-2014 school year in every district but Montgomery County. The results varied so widely between school systems and individual schools that some questioned whether they provide an accurate view of teacher quality.
In Anne Arundel County, 6 percent of the teachers were rated ineffective; the number came to less than 1 percent in Baltimore, Carroll and Harford counties. In Baltimore City, 3 percent were rated ineffective. In Howard County, it was 1 percent.
"What this data can't tell us is whether it is true," said Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington-based nonprofit.
She said the variations are likely a result of inconsistencies in how the new system was applied from one school district to the next. Each district designed its own evaluations, following statewide guidelines that included the percentage of student achievement to be factored in.
The evaluation system is part of a series of major education reforms the state pledged to make to receive federal Race to the Top funds. The state committed to using standardized test scores as part of the evaluation, but the implementation has been delayed until the 2016-2017 school year.
Teachers have been judged based on achievement objectives for their students that are set at the beginning of the school year with their principals.
Montgomery County was not included because the county did not sign the federal Race to the Top agreement.
State officials said they expect local school districts to study their results so that they can adjust individual evaluation systems.
Cheryl Bost, vice president of the union that represents most of the state's teachers, said the data should be analyzed to assess its accuracy and whether the evaluation methods are sound. If the information proves reliable, she said, school systems should focus on support to teachers who are struggling.
The new results are "one piece of data we can use in a multitude of data to move forward with all these reforms," said Bost, of the Maryland State Education Association.
Teachers who are found to be ineffective this year or in the future can be fired. The length of time before a teacher can be fired varies by school district, depending on the union contract.
In Baltimore, teachers with higher ratings can earn higher salaries.
State officials said they did not have a target for how many teachers should have been in each category from ineffective to highly ineffective.
Jacobs said states that are releasing first-year evaluation data have reported similarly wide variations among districts. She said she would expect more than 3 percent of teachers would receive an ineffective rating under the new system. Under the old systems, about 2 percent of teachers nationwide were rated as ineffective.
The results showed that students in schools with high percentages of minority and low-income students are less likely to have highly effective teachers and slightly more likely to have ineffective teachers.
"Tears came rolling down my face when I saw this," said state school board member Linda Eberhart, who taught in Baltimore.
Officials said parents should look at the data in light of all the other information they know about their children's schools.
"My kid goes to this school," said Ben Feldman, a state official who helped to analyze the data. "Do [the ratings] match my perception of the school? If they do, then that should be affirming. If they don't, that is a conversation."
As a group, school districts in Central Maryland, with 2.3 percent of teachers rated ineffective, performed slightly better than the state as a whole.
But even within individual counties, performance varied widely.
At five schools in Anne Arundel, including Edgewater and Rolling Knolls elementaries, one-third of the teachers were rated ineffective. But the county also had schools at which every faculty member was highly rated. At five Anne Arundel schools, including Overlook and Crofton Meadows elementaries, 100 percent of the teachers were rated highly effective.
A quarter of the teachers at Beechfield Elementary School and Renaissance Academy in Baltimore were rated ineffective.
Jennifer Bell-Ellwanger, Baltimore's chief achievement and accountability officer, said the district would examine the results to look for instances in which principals might have been too harsh or lenient in their evaluations, and might need additional training.
"This is a big cultural shift to go from an evaluation system that was much more subjective" to one that uses objective standards, Bell-Ellwanger said. In some schools, she said, principals are struggling with the difficult conversations they must have with teachers who need to improve.
School officials in Baltimore County credited the comparatively low percentage of ineffective teachers in the district to assistance they provided to new teachers who were rated ineffective in the past.
A private contractor working with state officials will analyze the data in greater detail, with results to be released in the spring.
In other business, the state school board voted Tuesday to back away from requiring current ninth- and 10th-graders to pass the new PARCC English 10 and Algebra I tests in order to graduate from high school.
Superintendents, local school boards and other state educators had lobbied the state to hold off on the requirement for two years while schools and students got used to the PARCC tests, which are to be given for the first time this school year.
Ninth-graders in the 2016-2017 school year will need to pass those end-of-year tests before they graduate.