Conflict may loom over Maryland teacher evaluations

By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Student performance would be the biggest factor in teacher evaluations under draft regulations proposed Tuesday by the Maryland Board of Education.

The new regulations could set the stage for a conflict between education officials and the state's teachers unions.

All of the state's public schools would be required to make student progress, as measured by standardized tests and other means, account for at least 50 percent of teacher and principal evaluations by 2012. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have pressed educators to give student performance more weight in teacher evaluations.

Maryland education officials have said the 50 percent figure is important in showing the state's commitment to Obama's education priorities, which could help it qualify for as much as $250 million in federal aid through the Race to the Top competition.

But the regulations appear to push against the limits of a bill approved by the Maryland legislature this month. The bill would require student growth to be a "significant" factor in teacher evaluations but limits any one criterion to 35 percent.

The new regulations would limit any single component of student progress, such as standardized test scores, to 35 percent.

"The board felt it was important to put students at the center of everything," said a spokesman for the state Department of Education, William Reinhard. "As the state board viewed it, this implements the intent of the law and makes it as strong as they possibly could."

Test scores factor into teacher evaluations in many school districts, but Race to the Top has pushed states to make them figure more prominently. Under a system introduced in the District this school year, as much as half of each teacher's evaluation is based on how much student test scores improve.

In Maryland, some politicians and educators, including the leader of the largest local teachers union, said the state board was overstepping the new legislation, which Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) is expected to sign next month.

"Teaching is an incredibly complex art, and prescribing this high a percentage in terms of one area . . . undervalues teachers," said Doug Prouty, president of the Montgomery County Education Association. He said the regulations might jeopardize the county's peer-review evaluation system, which uses observations, test scores and other factors to determine how well teachers are doing. Montgomery schools and the teachers union just last week agreed to make test scores and other data on student performance worth a third of each teacher's evaluation.

Maryland Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George's), chairman of an education subcommittee, said the legislature had specifically considered, but rejected, the idea of student progress accounting for 50 percent of evaluations, because some lawmakers were concerned that would take away flexibility from local systems.

Montgomery County education officials have expressed caution about signing on to the state's Race to the Top application, saying they do not want to endorse anything that would force them to modify their evaluation system.

A spokeswoman for the Maryland State Education Association, Debra Garner, declined to comment on the proposed regulations. She said her group was evaluating them.

The proposed regulations will go to a review committee to determine whether they are in compliance with existing legislation before they are presented for public comment. The state board will vote on final regulations this year.

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