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Montgomery schools wrong to balk at evaluation proposals

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MARYLAND ESTABLISHED its credentials as a leader in education reform by insisting on making schools accountable for their results. That certainly was the hallmark of now-retired state schools superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, whose lengthy tenure pioneered reforms that are now established education policy. So it is heartening that her successor is showing similar devotion to accountability in the face of predictable pushback.

State Superintendent of Schools Lillian M. Lowery has rejected new teacher evaluation proposals from nine of the state’s 24 local school systems as not meeting state law or federal education policy. At issue are requirements that school systems use student performance on state assessments as a portion of how teachers and principals are evaluated. Maryland’s receipt of millions of dollars of federal Race to the Top funds as well as its waiver from requirements from No Child Left Behind were premised on promises, enshrined in the state’s Education Reform Act of 2010, that evaluations of teachers and principals would be improved to better take into account actual student achievement.

Some districts, though, are balking at the requirement that a significant portion — at least 20 percent — of an evaluation be linked to student growth captured on statewide exams. This includes Montgomery County, where officials argue that they opted out of Race to the Top precisely because they didn’t want to upend a teacher evaluation system they claim has been instrumental to the success of their schools. Superintendent Joshua P. Starr, for his part, has been waging war on state tests, a stance that aligns him with the county’s powerful teachers union.

Montgomery unquestionably is a high-performing system, but no small part of its success is because of the enviable economic and educational advantages of its parents. Significant achievement gaps still exist between students of different races and income backgrounds, a fact that discredits Montgomery’s smugness about the inviolability of its practices.

“Why are folks so afraid of being accountable for what students learn?” was the spot-on question that Kate Walsh, a former member of the Maryland State Board of Education and the head of the National Council on Teacher Quality, posed to the Gazette’s Jen Bondeson.

Indeed, so fearful are some officials of the reforms being implemented that legislation seeking to block them was recently introduced in Annapolis.

If Maryland officials want to maintain the state’s reputation as a leader in education, they would do well to get behind Ms. Lowery and her reasonable argument that student work must be at “the very heart” of how educators are judged.

More on this topic: Md. rejects Montgomery's teacher evaluation plan New Md, superintendent aims high for schools A new way to measure school progress in Maryland Joshua P. Starr: Time out on standardized testing

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