Maryland rejects Montgomery’s teacher evaluation plan and 8 others

February 1, 2013

The Maryland State Department of Education has rejected new teacher-evaluation proposals from nine of the state’s 24 county school systems, saying that the proposals do not align with state law, federal education reforms or, in some cases, either.

Among school systems that failed to meet the state’s criteria were Montgomery and Frederick, two of the top performing districts in Maryland and the only two counties in the state to reject Race to the Top funds. The school systems had hoped that rejecting those funds would grant them more autonomy in crafting their evaluation proposals.

Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr said the state did not immediately provide a reason for rejecting the system’s proposal. He said a more detailed assessment will come next week.

Maryland education officials met with county superintendents Friday to discuss the assessments. The meeting came a day after the U.S. Department of Education released a report criticizing how Maryland has fallen behind in implementing key elements of Race to the Top, the Obama administration’s signature education reform initiative.

Much of the tension over redesigning teacher-evaluation programs in Maryland reflects the ongoing national debate over how to best tie student learning, student improvement and standardized tests to the evaluation of teacher performance.

While counties that took Race to the Top money were required to make student achievement 50 percent of the measure of teacher performance, Montgomery and Frederick only had to comply with a new state law that made it a “significant” factor in a teacher’s rating.

Starr said he worries that the state and counties have different interpretations of what “significant” should be. In its proposal, Montgomery didn’t require the use of the state’s standardized test, the Maryland School Assessment, as part of its teacher evaluation proposal but allowed it to be one of many data options principals could use.

“I’m disappointed that the strengths of the Montgomery County Public Schools system are being compromised as a result of this decision,” Starr said. “We have clearly shown over the years that a collaborative approach to teacher evaluations and support that also uses student achievement data sets the stage for improvement of student achievement.”

State Superintendent of Schools Lillian M. Lowery said in a statement that officials were “working very hard to develop fair and meaningful evaluation programs, putting student work at the very heart of how they review educators.” She added that “while there are elements of the evaluations to resolve in some instances, in some of our school systems, we continue to work with system leadership.”

A. Duane Arbogast, the acting deputy superintendent for academics in Prince George’s County, said that school system worked with its teachers’ union to find a formula that both “felt comfortable with” to submit to the state.

Under its proposal, which was also rejected by the state, teacher evaluations would have consisted of student surveys, student learning objectives and state assessments. Arbogast said the state wanted the county to use the Maryland School Assessment as 20 percent of the rating measuring student growth — not the 15 percent that Prince George’s proposed.

“We felt we had submitted a strong proposal,” Arbogast said.

Starr and others have criticized the required use of the Maryland School Assessment in teacher evaluation because it will soon be replaced by a different test to comply with more rigorous education standards.

Frederick County had created a teacher evaluation model that makes student performance 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.

Stephen Hess, who retired Friday as Frederick County Public Schools director of research, development and accountability, said the district is still proud of its plan, but officials will continue working with the state.

Hess said that the state’s formula may not accurately measure the success that Frederick’s plan could achieve. “This is a matter of professional judgment,” he said.

St. Mary’s, Washington, Baltimore County, Carroll, Cecil and Charles also submitted teacher-evaluation systems deemed “not approvable.” Systems that didn’t get approval can continue to pilot evaluation programs and resubmit plans in May. Districts with plans that were approved will implement the new systems starting in July.

Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this story.

Lynh Bui is a Prince George's County public safety reporter and former Montgomery County education reporter.
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