Maryland has faced several challenges in fulfilling its $250 million promise to overhaul the way it educates students and evaluates educators, the U.S. Department of Education reported Wednesday.
In a report on the state's progress in reaching goals in the third year of the federal Race to the Top program, the department identified the greatest obstacles: implementing the Common Core standards, creating new teacher and principal evaluations, and building new data systems.
The department assessed progress in 11 states and the District of Columbia that were among the first to sign on to Race to the Top, a $4.35 billion program created by President Barack Obama to encourage school reforms. The states promised to implement federally recommended changes in exchange for massive infusions of cash.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement that Maryland made significant progress in the third year, and "there are encouraging signs of this investment's impact."
"Maryland also faced a number of challenges," he said, "and it is critical that the state continues to work on ensuring that all state and local leaders, including educators, are receiving support and resources to better prepare all students for college and careers."
State officials said they have made significant progress since the federal audit concluded last October.
"We've been really busy this year and last year," said state Superintendent Lillian Lowery. "We have been working vigorously with our districts where we need to. The implementation is getting better and better."
The department found the state was not equipped to assess the quality of Common Core programs that districts were implementing last year, and therefore couldn't give districts additional support they might have needed.
Lowery said the state convened sessions to talk about implementation, but the Education Department wanted to see a more formal way of evaluating the districts' progress. The state is now doing a more formal evaluation.
The state also faced challenges in field testing its new teacher and principal evaluations, which are supposed to start linking teacher performance to student achievement and test scores this year.
"At the end of the day, all 22 of our Race to the Top districts have approved teacher evaluation systems, and they're in the process of implementing them this year," she said.
The department found there were significant delays in the development and implementation of new "formative assessments," which teachers use throughout the year to gauge student understanding of material.
Lowery said most districts have the assessments, but the state is in the process of establishing ones that are aligned to the Common Core. The state has hired a vendor, and those assessments will be available by this summer, she said.
The state has built new online systems that students, teachers and parents can use to access instructional materials and data — though one year later than planned.
The department lauded the state for continuing to show progress on national tests, the quality of its professional development for principals and teachers amid the transition to the Common Core, its expansion of science, technology, engineering and math education, and its efforts to turn around the state's worst schools.