Schools from Ocean City to Garrett County are struggling to put in place two major shifts in education policy this year, with teachers working longer hours and sometimes feeling overwhelmed, according to a survey released Wednesday by the state teachers union.
In the teacher survey, 87 percent of the respondents said there are still challenges in their schools to understand and implement the more rigorous common core standards, and just one in three said they were adequately prepared to do the work.
"I think it confirms what we have been trying to say. There is a lot of education reform coming at teachers and principals at one time," said Cheryl Bost, vice president of the Maryland State Education Association.
The teachers union supports the new common core as well as the new evaluation system, which judges teachers on student progress, but says the state needs more time to implement them well.
The union survey — conducted Nov. 4 through Nov. 8 with responses from 745 teachers — is not a scientific poll. The union, which represents 70,000 teachers in every school system in Maryland except Baltimore's, is calling it an impressionistic look at how the state's teachers view the changes.
The survey indicates that some school systems have had difficulty writing curriculums under the common core standards quickly enough to get materials to teachers in advance. More than 40 percent of the teachers who responded said they are getting the curriculum two weeks or less before they are expected to deliver it to students.
"You can't adequately teach if you are getting curriculum two weeks before you teach it," Bost said.
In Baltimore County, for instance, the language arts curriculum for the elementary grades is being written as the year goes on. For weeks after school began, glitches to a website prevented teachers from accessing resources needed to teach the lessons.
Jack Smith, chief academic officer for the Maryland State Department of Education, is optimistic about the introduction of the initiatives. He believes "the implementation is going well," though he said it isn't smooth or perfect everywhere.
"It is just hard to switch from one system to another. It takes time. We have a lot of classroom teachers out there who have to think differently about the curriculum now," he said.
A new evaluation system judges teachers for the first time on whether their students are making progress. The evaluation system, which is more complex than ever, is being introduced this year. About two-thirds of the respondents said they do not feel prepared for the new evaluation system, and 83 percent said there are challenges in putting it in place even if they had been trained in how it works.
While principals oversee the teacher evaluations, the new rules require teachers to select at the beginning of the school year an area or skill in which their students need to improve and set a goal they believe students should reach by the end of the year.
For instance, third-grade teachers might decide that 95 percent of their students should be able to do multiplication tables correctly by the end of the school year. The process of picking out those objectives has been an added burden in a year when they are also transitioning to a new curriculum.
"Teachers are working hard and doing their best for their students, but these results should be huge red flags to policy-makers and parents," said Betty Weller, president of the state teachers union. "Frustration is mounting, and our schools and students are unfairly paying the price of this poorly thought-out implementation process."
Weller is calling for changes in the implementation plans to allow for a more orderly transition.
New curriculum and teacher evaluations will be followed by the introduction of new tests — called Partnership for Assessments of Readiness for College and Careers — in all schools in the spring of 2015. A paper and pencil test can be given at schools for the first three years, but eventually schools will have to have enough bandwidth and computers for students to take the tests.
Just 9 percent of the teachers who responded to the survey say their schools have the technological or physical facilities to deliver the PARCC tests entirely on computers by 2015, while 20 percent said they don't know.
This spring, students in one classroom in each elementary and middle school in the state will field test the PARCC assessments. The results will not be reported to the public but will be used as a trial. The remaining students will take the old Maryland School Assessments.
The introduction of the initiatives has left teachers with a pile of extra homework. Teachers said they are spending several hours more each week trying to better understand the new standards and curriculum and prepare lessons.