State school board moves to strengthen teacher evaluation rule

In a move that is likely to anger some teachers and legislators, state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick proposed Tuesday a regulation that would require that student achievement make up at least half of teacher and principal evaluations.

The regulation would go further than legislators were willing to go less than a month ago, when they passed a bill that would link student achievement and evaluations for the first time but did not include specific criteria. Few school systems use student achievement in rating a teacher's job performance.

Grasmick made the proposal to the state school board, which voted Tuesday to go forward with the measure. It will be reviewed by a joint committee of the legislature before being published. The public would have 30 days to comment. It could take nine months before the proposal becomes regulation, and it would not take effect until the 2012-2013 school year.

Education advocates and leaders on both sides of the issue reacted immediately. State Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat, said he has not read the proposed regulation but questioned whether it is in compliance with the education reform bill that is expected to be signed by the governor next month.

"To set 50 percent when that was rejected by the legislature may run counter to what we did. I haven't seen it, and it may have to go to the attorney general," said Pinsky, who was outspoken on the original legislation and is a co-chair of the joint panel that will review the proposal.

The legislature had considered putting the 50 percent benchmark into the bill, but it was weakened to allow local districts to negotiate on developing the evaluation system.

The state board and Grasmick have taken this step to strengthen its Race to the Top application, which could garner up to $250 million in federal dollars for a series of state education reforms. However, Grasmick has pledged to go forward with changes even if the state is not chosen for the competitive grant.

Under the proposed regulation, 50 percent of the evaluation would be based on "student growth," but it doesn't define student growth as test scores. So a school district could use portfolios of student work instead of scores. Some educators have said that would be a cumbersome tool and that in most cases testing is easier for a principal to use.

However, no state test is given at the beginning and end of the year. So, districts would have to use tests given to students during the school year, such as the "benchmarks" usually given every quarter in many subjects to see if students are learning the material.

In addition, the proposed regulation says that no single tool, such as a particular test, could amount to more than 35 percent of the evaluation. So, school systems would have to choose more than one test or a combination of a test and other student work.

Matthew Joseph, executive director of Advocates for Children and Youth, said he doesn't think the proposed regulation goes far enough. He says student achievement data should be used to make decisions about pay and whether a teacher is let go.

"The proposal makes it easier to identify but not remove ineffective teachers," he said.

The Maryland State Teachers Association, the union that represents most Maryland teachers, said in a statement that the legislation passed this month calls for flexibility for local school systems and decision-making between the systems and teachers unions.

Doug Prouty, president of the Montgomery County teachers union, said the 50 percent rule is "a big problem" because it would require the county to redo its existing teacher evaluation system, which he said was developed over many years and does consider student performance.

Carl Roberts, who heads the association of the state's superintendents, said the Race to the Top application has gained the support of local superintendents, who will make the 50 percent requirement work.

But he said implementation would be difficult and that the proposal was not what the superintendents had wanted.

"We didn't want a hard number," Roberts said. "We wanted the ability to have some flexibility."

Roberts said superintendents are also deeply concerned that the changes would be very costly for local school districts if Maryland does not get the federal Race to the Top money. While Maryland school districts have not had to make major cutbacks this year, Roberts said, the outlook for next year is likely to be worse.

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