A survey of Maryland's public educators shows that teachers don't feel the new system for evaluating them is going as well as the principals who are grading them do.
While 70 percent of principals believe the expectations are clear under the evaluation system put in place across the state last school year, only half of the teachers agree. The survey included responses from 16,000 educators across 23 school districts from April to May.
Teachers believed that the new system, which ties their performance to student achievement, was problematic because it was one of many reforms being undertaken at the same time.
Despite their skepticism about how well the new system is being implemented on the ground, educators across the state seem to have some confidence that it will improve teaching in the long term, according to William J. Slotnik, founder and executive director of the Community Training and Assistance Center. The center worked in collaboration with WestEd, an education consulting and research organization, to do the analysis, which was presented to the Maryland State Department of Education on Tuesday.
Last school year, the state required school districts to implement a new evaluation system for teachers that was designed to improve teaching by getting rid of poor teachers and supporting those who are struggling.
Teachers are rated in part on student achievement goals the teacher and principals agree on at the beginning of the school year, known as student learning objectives, and on how their students do on state tests. The requirement to use state tests has been delayed, however, for two years after concerns arose about the reliability of the scores from new tests.
Slotnik said Maryland has made better progress in implementing the new evaluation system than other states in the nation.
"We are working closely with educators to construct a fair system that improves instruction," state school Superintendent Lillian M. Lowery said in a statement. "The more experience teachers and school leaders have with the new evaluation system, the more we will see professional growth and student achievement in our classrooms."
School board members suggested that the survey results be disaggregated and given to local school districts so leaders could gauge how well the evaluation system is working in their areas. They also wanted to know if local school boards were putting enough emphasis on implementing the new evaluation system.
Interviews across the districts and the schools showed, Slotnik said, that there is "tremendous discomfort with what they thought were unrealistic timelines." Schools were implementing both a new teacher evaluation system and the Common Core curriculum last year. The survey showed, he said, that educators believed their ability to do each reform well was being slowed because there was too much on their plates. They blame federal education officials, according to the survey.
About one-third of teachers said student achievement data had been used in setting goals to evaluate them, and about a third said they were having more meaningful discussions about their teaching craft with their colleagues. Three-quarters of principals said they believed they were having deeper discussions with teachers about instruction.
"I didn't find the results surprising," said Cheryl Bost, vice president of the Maryland State Education Association, who was at the state board meeting. "We said it is an implementation issue. It needs time. It needs training, and it needs consistency. We tried to implement a lot of things at one time, and this points out that we didn't do any one of them really well."
She said now that the state and federal government have backed away from including test scores this year in the evaluation system, teachers will have more time to work on the problems.
"We should be on the path to getting it right," she said.