Montgomery County to weigh student performance as a third of teachers' reviews

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Montgomery County teachers and school system leaders signed an agreement Tuesday that calls for test scores and other student performance data to "factor strongly" in one-third of every teacher's evaluation, saying theirs is the first school system in Maryland to specify how much that data will count as a factor in teacher ratings.

The teachers and administrators acted in response to a new state law that allows student test scores to be used as a "significant" component of teacher evaluations. The law is part of Maryland's proposal for federal education aid under President Obama's $4 billion "Race to the Top" competition. Maryland is seeking as much as $250 million in the contest, which awards money to states whose applications show the strongest commitment to the president's education reform agenda.

Test scores have been a part of Montgomery's decade-old Teacher Professional Growth System, just as they factor into teacher evaluations in many other school districts. But Race to the Top has put school systems under pressure to place test scores front and center in those evaluations and to quantify their role in rating teachers.

"We've always considered student achievement as a secondary source for teacher evaluations, but now we are looking at it as a primary data source," said Dana Tofig, the school system's spokesman. He said school officials think the evaluation system "meets -- and exceeds -- the intent of the state law and is well in line with the goal of national reforms."

However, Doug Prouty, president of the Montgomery County Education Association, said the agreement signed Tuesday would not effectively change the way teachers in the school system are evaluated. The agreement states that the labor group and system leaders agree that student performance is a primary factor in two of six evaluation standards, those covering teacher planning and assessment.

"There's always been student data incorporated into the evaluation system," Prouty said. "We want to be sure that kids are progressing and kids are doing well."

The District has proposed strengthening its teacher evaluations so that half of each teacher's annual review would be based on student achievement. The plan is part of its Race to the Top application, which some independent analysts have portrayed as the strongest in the region.

Last fall, D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee launched a system that evaluates reading and math teachers in grades 4 through 8 based on growth in test scores. It was one of the first such models to tie evaluations so explicitly to test scores.

Maryland Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick wants half of each teacher's evaluation to be based on growth in student learning. She has said the state's application for Race to the Top must be "bold" to have a chance of success.

Teacher evaluations do not generally determine pay raises, which are set according to a teacher's education level and experience. Some districts, however, have experimented with bonus systems that reward performance with pay. Prince George's County has such a program; Montgomery does not.

Montgomery teachers do, however, face the possibility of losing their jobs if they get sub-par evaluations under a peer review system that is modeled on a much-praised collaboration between teachers and school officials in Toledo, Ohio. The system has led to the resignation or dismissal of nearly 400 underperforming Montgomery teachers over the course of about a decade, with full support of the labor group.

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