Partnership OK'd on teacher evaluations in Md.

ANNAPOLIS -- Maryland education officials and a diverse group of organizations representing educators announced a unique partnership Friday to develop an important part of teacher evaluations.

The agreement, which focuses on making teachers and principals more effective, comes as states struggle to develop new teacher evaluation systems and work to implement student achievement into the reviews.

In Maryland, the groups signed a memorandum of understanding to cooperate on forming measurable goals that educators and their supervisors develop and agree on at the start of each school year. The goals, which are known as student learning objectives, are aimed at a specific group of students over a set period of time. They are a key factor in Maryland's new teacher-principal evaluation system.

"Every student needs great teachers and school leaders," Gov. Martin O'Malley said in a statement. "Every educator needs support and collaboration to be their best."

The agreement was signed by Maryland's largest teachers' union, the Maryland State Educators Association, and the Maryland State Board of Education. It also was signed by the Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland and groups representing principals of secondary schools and elementary schools.

"I would say this level of collaboration between a state department of education and a statewide union and the three major administrative associations on issues of teacher and principal evaluation is unprecedented nationally," said Bill Slotnik, executive director of Boston-based Community Training and Assistance Center, which has worked with 30 states on forming new teacher evaluations.

The focus, Slotnik said, is on support as well as accountability.

"In other words, it's not a gotcha," he said.

State Superintendent of Schools Lillian Lowery underscored the importance of supporting teachers and principals as changes are implemented.

"The state will continue to support educators in partnership with all school systems as they develop a fair and equitable process for learning and improving instruction," Lowery said.

New forms of evaluating teacher performance have been a hot-button issue at a time when new curricula and new assessments are being implemented in schools nationwide. In Maryland this year, lawmakers decided the state should wait to use student testing data to make decisions on teachers' jobs until the Common Core standards are solidly established. Lawmakers passed a measure to postpone using the tests for teacher evaluations until the 2016-2017 school year.

Adam Mendelson, a spokesman for MSEA, said the agreement is part of a process that began last year, when MSEA and other state affiliates got a grant to help deliver training on student learning objectives and reached out to Lowery, who worked with them.

Under the partnership, the parties have agreed to focus on continuing professional development for teachers and principals as they develop the goals. They also have agreed to identify a diverse group of leaders to work on professional development and to establish a network for collaboration on creating the student objective goals. They also agreed to complete a study on the process by August 2016.

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