New teacher and principal evaluation systems mandated by the state don't take effect until next year, but 129 Howard County teachers and 23 principals have volunteered to participate in a pilot evaluation: a test run that places more emphasis than ever on student achievement.
Several factors led to the pilot, Deputy Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Administration Linda Wise told the Board of Education recently. In 2010, the Maryland General Assembly passed the Education Reform Act, which "paved the way" to the state applying for, and receiving, Race to the Top grant funding, Wise said.
The law requires that student growth be measured as a significant component in teacher evaluation, Wise said, and under the pilot, 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation will be based on student growth.
The pilot was developed collaboratively with the Howard County Education Association and the Howard County Administrator Association — the unions for teachers and principals, respectively.
"We can collaboratively say that we believe the models we developed are not only good for teachers and teacher effectiveness, but will guide our work to ensure our students are college- and career-ready," Wise said.
Other Maryland districts have already rolled out pilot programs. Last year, Baltimore, Charles, Kent, Prince George's, Queen Anne's and St. Mary's counties, along with Baltimore City, piloted new evaluation systems, to align with the state guidelines issued last April.
HCEA Vice President Maleeta Kitchen, who was part of the work group designing the Howard County pilot, said 50 percent of a volunteering teacher's evaluation would be based on student growth, while 50 percent is based on professional practice — measures on factors like planning preparations, instruction, classroom environment and professional responsibilities.
The new student growth component is split into four areas: literacy, mathematical practices, creative problem solving in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and content. With principals, teachers will develop objectives in two of those areas, each worth 25 percent of the evaluation.
If teachers have classes assessed by the Maryland State Assessments — soon to be the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests — those assessments are worth 10 percent of the evaluation, while the two other areas are knocked down to 20 percent each.
According to the board report, teacher performance will also be evaluated at 60 percent professional practice and 40 percent student growth.
Teachers have until the end of October to set goals, or student learning objectives, with their principals, said Juliann Dibble, director of professional and organizational development.
Work in progress
"Student learning objectives really lift up what teachers told us they value," said Clarissa Evans, executive director of school improvement and curricular programs. "One of the things (teachers told us) was that it's not about tests and test scores, it's about what we see as changed behaviors in our students.
"The process supports important and effective learning behaviors that we want our teachers to engage in," Evans said.
Work still remains on the pilot, Evans said, including determining how to differentiate "ineffective" from "effective" and "effective" from "highly effective."
The committee will also continue to look at ways to offset the workload the new evaluations will entail, Wise said.
Superintendent Renee Foose said the evaluations would provide an opportunity to use technology in order to conduct both the objective and subjective evaluations.
"We want to apply leveraging technology to offset the workload we're seeing so it's more efficient for our teachers and our principals, using tools to conduct observations and evaluations," Foose said.
HCEA President Paul Lemle described the pilot as making the best of a bad situation.
"We don't believe a state test can accurately judge an algebra teacher, not knowing who the eight math teachers the student had before were," Lemle said. "There's no way to separate that with any test. You can't control for all the other educational factors."
Creating a new evaluation system is still a work in progress, Lemle said, and HCEA and the school system were working to create a committee to explore Montgomery County's peer-assisted review system, where other teachers are involved in one another's evaluations.
"My hope is that we can push off the mistaken notion that tests tell us a whole lot, and get to start using a model that uses expert eyes, to really look deeply at what a teacher has and needs in terms of classroom practices," Lemle said.