Washington County teachers being held accountable for student achievement

June 16, 2013|By JULIE E. GREENE |

While debate continues over whether local or state education officials should determine how teachers are evaluated, teachers in Washington County Public Schools will have a new evaluation model for the coming school year that will hold them accountable for student achievement.

Teachers have not all had the same reaction to the model the school system submitted to the state on June 3 and which was approved last week. Some teachers are embracing it and others are not looking forward to change, Washington County Teachers Association President Denise Fry said.

“Teachers are not afraid to be held accountable for their jobs. ... They know that every single day when they go to work, the work they are doing has the potential to impact the future of their students,” Fry said. “The concept that education can be measured under business standards is a challenge.”

Teachers aren’t working an assembly line where they take so many pounds of metal or plastic and create a TV set or CD player, Fry said. Students come to class with different backgrounds, genetic makeups, needs and family structures, she said.

It’s teachers’ jobs to assess children’s skills; provide needed remediation; help students improve so they are on grade level and continue to progress; and teach students to explore and look at things differently, Fry said.

The old evaluation method the school system used did not hold teachers accountable for student growth, but was based on classroom observations, Fry said.

The Maryland Education Reform Act of 2010 mandates student growth be a significant part of teacher and principal evaluations. Federal education reform, known as Race to the Top, calls for student growth to account for 50 percent of the evaluations of teachers and principals, according to a presentation staff made June 4 to the Board of Education.

The school system and teachers’ union have been working together for more than two years to create a new teacher evaluation system, using federal funds the school system received to pilot a new evaluation system for teachers and principals at five schools in the last two years.

Should some aspect need tweaking, the teachers’ union and school system have a year-by-year agreement that the evaluation system will be reviewed annually, Fry said.

Associate Superintendent Michael Markoe said school system officials have to decide whether that pilot program will continue through the coming school year. Federal grant funds run out in September 2014.

There isn’t much difference in the evaluation model used in the pilot program and the model the state approved, said Markoe, who with Fry was co-chair of the team that developed the new evaluation plans.

Much of what is in the evaluation model for teachers and principals was tested through the pilot program, he said.

Teachers and principals deemed effective or highly effective under the new evaluation model will not receive financial bonuses, as they did under the pilot program. Grant funding paid for almost $1 million in bonuses for pilot program participants last summer, with bonuses for the last school year still being determined.

Local versus state

A June 10 blog posted at Education Week’s website states the Maryland State Education Association, the largest state teachers’ union in Maryland, planned to seek a court injunction to keep state-approved teacher evaluation systems from being imposed on several county school districts.

Now that the state has approved 21 of 22 public school systems’ teacher-principal evaluation plans, that might be a moot point.

The state announced Thursday that only Baltimore City’s plan awaited final approval. Montgomery and Frederick county school systems have another year to submit their proposed evaluation models because those school systems didn’t sign on to participate in the state’s Race to the Top grant application.

MSEA spokesman Adam Mendelson said Wednesday the state association was waiting to see whether the local evaluation plans submitted to the state would be approved. The state association would work with any local school system whose plan was rejected because the local plan didn’t have 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation tied to state assessment tests, he said.

Mendelson said the issue is whether the state has the authority to mandate how that 50 percent student growth is measured.

Both Washington County’s model and an online draft of the state’s teacher evaluation model tie 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation to assessment test results, if that teacher oversees a course for which there is a state assessment test.

Comparing charts of the two teacher evaluation models, the difference is the weight each gives to student-learning objectives — some of the ways teachers will be held accountable for student achievement.

Twenty-two of the 24 local school systems submitted their own proposed evaluation model to the state, rather than adopt the state’s model as is, Maryland State Department of Education spokesman William Reinhard said.

Reinhard said assessment test results are included in the evaluation model because it’s an accountability measure that’s been given across the state and has been in place for years.

MSEA President Betty Weller on June 5 sent State Superintendent Lillian Lowery a letter stating MSEA wanted the coming school year to be a no-fault year regarding the inclusion of state assessments in evaluations. Weller also asked Lowery to rescind any demand for 20 percent of state assessment tests, or any phase-in for them.

Those assessment tests — the Maryland School Assessments and High School Assessments — are slated to be phased out in favor of the PARCC exams — Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exams — in the 2014-15 school year, Markoe said.

Referring to the state department’s proposal for a three-year phase-in of PARCC results affecting evaluations, Weller refers in her letter to the PARCC exams as an “undeveloped, unvalidated, and untested assessment.”

While those exams haven’t arrived yet, teachers have seen the new Common Core curriculum on which those tests will be based, Reinhard said.

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