Montgomery schools, unions support bill postponing reform of teacher evaluation

March 19, 2013

School administrators and teachers unions from Maryland will testify Wednesday in favor of a bill that would postpone state reform of teacher evaluation systems.

Supporters of Senate Bill 775 want to keep the Maryland State Board of Education from forcing local school systems to include standardized tests in their teacher evaluation criteria until those exams are aligned with new education standards currently being rolled out in classrooms.

A legislative analysis, however, shows adopting the bill could jeopardize at least $37.9 million in federal education dollars.

The State Department of Education rejected performance evaluation systems for Montgomery County, Frederick County and seven other school systems because they didn’t include enough weight for the Maryland School Assessment. If the Maryland School Assessment wasn’t included in revised teacher evaluation plans by May, schools could be forced to adopt model performance evaluation criteria outlined in a state law.

But the reform has been controversial as school systems and state education leaders have disagreed over the use of standardized tests when judging teacher performance. The Maryland State Education Association and others have expressed concern because students will be learning material under new, more challenging Common Core education standards starting next year. But students will be tested and teachers will be judged on old standardized exams till 2014, which is when they will be replaced by assessments that test students on material from the Common Core.

Montgomery County public schools officials have been particularly concerned over the state’s reforms. Superintendent Joshua P. Starr has called for a national three-year moratorium on standardized tests until curriculum and exams can align.

“The most important thing for folks to be considering right now is whether we’re going to be prepared for the new Common Core, new AP exams and new SATs,” Starr said. “If we want to continue to lead the country in things like college and career readiness, then we need to organize around the future and not the past.”

Maryland lawmakers forced school systems to adopt new teacher evaluation criteria when they approved the Education Reform Act of 2010. The legislation was designed to help the state win about $250 million in federal grants from Race to the Top, President Obama’s signature education reform initiative. Montgomery was also one of two counties in Maryland that rejected federal funds from Race to the Top to avoid having to change its system.

Montgomery does not require standardized tests in teacher evaluations, but includes them as one of several pieces of student achievement data administrators can use to measure teacher performance “when deemed appropriate.”

Starr and others are expected to testify on the bill going before the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee at 1 p.m. on March 20.

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