While an entire generation of Anne Arundel County students has been judged by increasingly rigorous academic standards, the way their teachers are rated hasn't changed at all.
For the past five years, through the terms of two superintendents, a committee of educators has been trying to come up with a new method of rating teachers -- only to deliver a proposal last week that falls short of state law. The current rating system has been in place since 1976.
"I was disappointed," said county school board member Joseph Foster.
He and other board members also were upset that the proposed evaluation form failed to link student progress to teacher success, something they had asked the 12-member committee to do.
"We can't take another year to study this. It's not even that we're rating them by 1976 standards; it's the whole process that's the problem," Mr. Foster said. "We're not effectively rating teachers. There are students in this county who are not getting the education they deserve."
Critics of the system say that in addition to using an antiquated ratings process, school administrators do not keep track of how many of the approximately 4,000 teachers in the system are fired each year for not meeting basic standards or how many are in improvement programs.
"In terms of how many teachers were fired because of incompetency or who have been put on plans of action to improve, I can't tell you," said David Lombardo, director of the school system's human resources department. The department doesn't keep statistics that way, he said.
That's not unusual, school officials around the state said.
"There's really no reason to do it," said William Rooney, director of personnel for Carroll County schools.
Mr. Foster, however, said school systems should keep track of teachers who are not performing well. "You can't manage a problem if you don't know the extent of it," he said.
The proposal before the Anne Arundel County school board calls for new teachers to be reviewed annually for their first two years, then every other year after that. Veteran teachers with tenure and a history of satisfactory ratings would be reviewed once every five years with an annual self-evaluation in between.
State officials said they were surprised the Anne Arundel Board of Education would contemplate such a plan, however.
"Our new state regulation, which went into effect last year, calls for observing and formally evaluating teachers who hold professional certificates every year for their first three years," said Rochelle Clemson, assistant superintendent for certification and accreditation at the Maryland Department of Education.
"By the third year on [Anne Arundel's] evaluation proposal, you'd be on an every-other-year evaluation sequence, which wouldn't meet the letter or spirit of the regulations," she said. "And I was surprised that they would come up with a plan that would look at teachers in any category only every five years. Our new guidelines clearly state that at a minimum of twice during the five-year period the teacher needs to be formally evaluated."
While it is up to each school district to develop its own teacher evaluation system, many consult state educators in the initial stages, she said.
Walter Bruso, principal of Crofton Middle School and chairman of the Teacher Evaluation Study Committee, said committee members were unaware of the new state requirements until a few weeks ago "and didn't have a chance to synchronize the report."
After board members attacked the plan, Superintendent Carol S. Parham agreed to take another look at it. The board has asked for another presentation on the issue at its June 21 meeting, which begins at 7:30 p.m. at school system headquarters on Riva Road in Annapolis.
The committee has worked in fits and starts since it was appointed by Larry L. Lorton, then superintendent, in the spring of 1989, Mr. Bruso said. The committee delivered a report to Dr. Lorton but he took no action, and no more was heard until Superintendent Carol S. Parham revived the group in the fall of 1993.
The new rating system is needed, he said, because the existing one doesn't reflect contemporary thoughts on education and new subjects that are taught in schools. For instance, students now have lessons on Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, personal safety and computer technology -- subjects that couldn't have been taught in 1976.
"Some things that seem rather basic just aren't mentioned on the [current]form," said Mr. Bruso. "Things like demonstrating knowledge of subject matter, that's not mentioned, and making provisions for student differences in the classroom, like their learning styles. You should be rounding out your lessons to be sure all of them have an equal opportunity to learn. We included those on the new rating form."
Teachers are currently rated, using a point system, on their performance in five "domains": planning, classroom management, teaching and learning process, interpersonal relations and professional improvement, he said.
John Kurpjuweit, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, said he has no problems with the substance of the proposed evaluation system, or the existing one.
"Changing the form isn't going to significantly change the effectiveness of the rating process," Mr. Kurpjuweit said. "We have heard of teachers that might get transferred rather than get a bad rating. If the school system doesn't have principals that are willing to do their job in evaluating teachers, nothing will work."
Teachers who do get poor evaluations are given a set of goals to improve, and are observed more frequently to ensure that they are meeting the goals, Mr. Bruso said.
"If we feel at that point they just aren't getting it, then we have to consider whether to continue their employment," Mr. Bruso said, adding that teachers often resign rather than go through retraining and repeated reviews.
Mr. Bruso said that in 21 years as a principal, he has initiated dismissal proceedings for incompetence between 15 and 20 times, but if a teacher has tenure, the dismissal process can take as long as two years.