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Maryland education leaders pledge collaboration to improve evaluation system

The state's major education players — from school boards to teachers unions and superintendents — signed a pledge Friday to work together to fine-tune a new teacher evaluation system put in place this school year.

The action taken at the state school board meeting came moments after a preliminary vote to approve new regulations that would require 20 percent of a teacher's evaluation to be based on annual goals that take test score data into account for the next two years.

Teacher evaluations continue to be a delicate issue because some educators have been critical of the use of test scores to evaluate teachers and believe the new system is being pushed through too quickly with a host of other changes.

Maryland was one of dozens of states to adopt several years ago a new teacher evaluation system that links a teacher's job performance to state test. The state had agreed to begin using test scores this past academic year but asked the U.S. Department of Education for a waiver. The General Assembly passed legislation this year that bans the use of test scores until the 2016-2017 school year.

School board member Linda Eberhart was the only member to vote against the proposed regulations. She had wanted the regulations to expire in two years so that the board would have to completely review the data and decide whether to rewrite the evaluation system. State officials have said other factors, such as student surveys, could be added to the system during the next two years and that adjustments in the model might have to be made.

"We have concerns about the regulations as drafted," said Adam Mendelson, a spokesman for the Maryland State Education Association, the union that represents most of the state's teachers.

He said the teachers union believes specifying a measure that is to be used and a percentage of how much it is worth takes away a portion of local control over the shape of teacher evaluations.

Mendelson said he hoped that the state and the union could collaborate similarly on the use of test scores as they did in signing the agreement Friday to work together on another part of the evaluation system known as student learning objectives.

In the past several years, about 40 states have moved to an evaluation system that requires principals and teachers to set those learning objectives at the beginning of the year. The achievement goals for students can be as specific as requiring an entire class to learn fractions or as general as raising overall math achievement by 10 percent.

Principals have been carrying out the new evaluation process in many different ways despite the fact that it is now high stakes and can determine a teacher's rating and, in some school systems, pay.

The new agreement means that officials will work together to make the process more uniform and to offer training to teachers and principals.

"It is a real sign of collaboration and it brings a lot of good thinking together," said Jack Smith, the Maryland State Department of Education's chief academic officer.

He said officials will try to use current research and the new strategies to improve the system.

"The goal is increased student learning and helping teachers be more effective in measuring whether students are learning and then responding when they find students aren't mastering the content," he said.

The National Education Association, one of the nation's two major teacher unions, awarded its Maryland affiliate a $400,000 grant to carry out the work. Betty Weller, president of the Maryland State Education Association, said the grant sparked interest from others in the collaboration.

"I think it is a great opportunity to get all the pertinent stakeholders together and work collaboratively to help teachers become stronger instructors and to help students reach their growth potential," Weller said.

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