Board changes teacher reviews

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Baltimore's teachers celebrated yesterday the end of a job evaluation policy that was considered innovative six years ago but had become an irritant to many teachers since then.

The evaluation system discarded by a school board vote Tuesday required teachers to keep portfolios on a handful of students throughout the school year and linked the instructors' job performance to those students' progress.

School leaders said that although they are doing away with the portfolio system, the district will still review classroom achievement.

"What we said in 1997 and we are still saying is that one of the ways we can assess the quality of a teacher is by the progress of the students that teacher has," said school board Chairwoman Patricia L. Welch, who was on the board when the first performance review policy was passed.

Teachers have complained for years that the way they were evaluated by their principals every year required them to do excessive paperwork to prove their students were learning.

The portfolio system required teachers to pick six children in their classroom at the beginning of each year and document student achievement by collecting work and charting the progress.

"It took away so much time from planning," said Baltimore Teachers Union President Marietta English. "It was an albatross hanging around their neck. It was just more paperwork added to the paperwork they already had."

The new policy will require principals to base their evaluations on the work and test scores of students but doesn't require teachers to do additional paperwork and analysis on student data to prove their class is progressing.

If students are not making progress, the teacher can be put on an improvement plan and eventually terminated if there isn't sufficient improvement in classroom performance.

English and school officials agree that some aspects of the system need to be refined, and the school board expects to take a year to rewrite the evaluation policy.

In addition, principals, assistant principals and department heads in high schools are being trained in how to use the evaluation policy.

The portfolio was first used after the state legislature created a city-state partnership to run the school district. Under that legislation, the school system was required to link a teacher's job performance to student achievement or risk losing several million dollars in state funds. Across the nation, school systems had been trying to weed out ineffective teachers by making them more accountable for their students' learning, and Baltimore was one of the first large school districts to adopt such a policy.

Marcia Brown, a district administrator who helped develop the policy, said that as standardized and state testing have become more prevalent, the district has held teachers more accountable.

Today, teachers spend a lot of time analyzing data on how their students are doing, Brown said, and the new policy simply changes how the material is presented to principals.

The school board was right to do away with the portfolio, Brown said, because the policy engendered anger among teachers.

"I wouldn't be surprised if someone didn't have a portfolio bonfire," she said.

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