City teacher evaluation system will rely heavily on state reforms

The system that Baltimore will need to devise to assess its teachers under a new groundbreaking contract will rely heavily on statewide reforms of teacher evaluations, education officials say.

The unprecedented autonomy and performance-based pay scale outlined for teachers in the tentative Baltimore Teachers Union contract announced Wednesday comes at a time when Maryland is developing a plan for 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation to reflect student achievement.

This was a critical point in negotiating the Baltimore contract, said schools CEO Andrés Alonso. "We wanted the contract to be aligned with [the state] and about outcomes, which is so murky right now," he said.

The new agreement would give city teachers the highest starting salary in the state and the opportunity to make more than $100,000 by climbing a rigorous career ladder. Teachers would receive pay increases based on their effectiveness and evaluations if the three-year contract is ratified by union teachers during a vote Oct. 14.

But how exactly teachers will be able to prove their effectiveness is among the key details that remain uncertain, union officials said.

"The contract is all about student growth, but how it's going to be measured is something we're looking forward to finding out," said Marietta English, president of the union. "We want to be out front helping to shape what the state will look like, and hopefully it will mirror much of what we have."

If ratified, the city's current evaluation system will remain in effect for the school year but employ one element of the new agreement. That element would allow teachers to acquire "achievement units" — a new set of benchmarks designed to count toward evaluation-based pay increases. The more units a teacher earns through showing effectiveness in the classroom, the better his or her evaluation and raise.

The new statewide teacher evaluation system is to take effect during the 2012-2013 school year, though the evaluation instrument will be tried in seven districts as early as next school year. Baltimore is a prime candidate to be one of those districts.

But state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, who co-chairs the 21-member committee of educators that will start defining how "teacher effectiveness" and "student growth" affect evaluations, said that Baltimore's contract has put it ahead of most other districts in the state.

The committee, the Educator Effectiveness Council, is co-chaired by Grasmick and Betty Weller of the Maryland State Education Association and is composed primarily of educators, including Alonso. The group has held two meetings since last month. It will address critical issues such as how to evaluate teachers who are not in grades or subjects that are tested by the state.

Of the 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation that will be tied to student achievement, only 30 percent will be dictated by state guidelines, she said. Twenty percent of the student-achievement-driven evaluation will be determined by local districts through mutually agreed-on contracts. If a district cannot come up with its own agreement, it will have to use a "default" model designed by the state.

"Baltimore is ahead of the game," Grasmick said. "I think they are now just waiting for the 30 percent that the state will provide. I think they have an excellent framework for this, and they're at that 20 percent."

Grasmick said that Baltimore's tentative teachers' contract will undoubtedly be tapped for the framework of the state's 20 percent model.

Education advocates who have been critical of the city's lack of attention to teacher quality said the new contract has positioned the city to lead the state discussion on the impending guidelines.

"I think that the contract is designed understanding the reality that evaluations linked to teacher skill and performance are coming, so it really helps the district and the teachers to be a jump ahead," said Bebe Verdery, director of the ACLU's education reform project.

"I think because they have established a collaboration approach, the city has the ability to shape the state conversation about how this will work."

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