By Meg Tully
Teachers could face salary freezes or eventual firing under a new evaluation system based on results of old tests that don’t match up with the new curriculum they are teaching.
Maryland’s school districts are revamping their teacher evaluation guidelines as required by the Maryland State Department of Education. The new standards were required to finish receiving $250 million in federal Race to the Top Funds, which call for greater teacher accountability.
At the same time, the state is implementing a new curriculum – Common Core, a state-led effort to make curriculum across the United States more uniform. (See separate story) It has been controversial in some states because of objections to a national curriculum, but Maryland educators seem to be embracing the new curriculum.
New evaluation system will base 20% on tests
The new teacher evaluation guidelines vary by district; several counties just won approval last week. New guidelines will be implemented next year in 22 school districts, with Montgomery and Frederick counties as the exception because they didn’t sign up for Race to the Top funds.
At the request of MSDE, 20% of the evaluation in most districts will be based on the Maryland School Assessment (MSA) in the 2013-2014 school year. That annual test is designed to judge how well students are meeting the state curriculum for reading and math.
The catch? The Common Core curriculum comes with its own standardized test, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). But it won’t be ready until the 2014-2015 school year — a year after Common Core is introduced and teacher evaluations become dependent on standardized tests.
Even after the new PARCC test comes on line, it will take several years for the state to work out the kinks in testing and decide what is considered a satisfactory score, said Cheryl Bost, vice president of the Maryland State Education Association. MSEA is a union representing 70,000 teachers and school employees.
“We don’t feel it’s fair to use the test since there are so many problems with it,” Bost said. “We want this to be a system of professional growth, not a gotcha. Our main goal is to get the evaluation right so it can truly improve practice.”
Misalignment of curriculum, test discussed
Two bills were introduced in the General Assembly last session calling for a suspension of teacher evaluations based on standardized tests until the curriculum and tests match up. Neither bill passed. Additionally, the Public Schools Superintendent’s Association of Maryland asked that 2013-2014 be counted as a no-fault year, but that request was denied by Maryland State Department of Education.
William Reinhard, a spokesman for MSDE, said that the majority (80%) of the evaluation will be based on factors such as lesson planning, principal observations and other professional practice criteria. Only 20% will be based on the MSA.
“It really is a fairly minimal part of the evaluation,” Reinhard said.
MSA tests only reading and math
Since the MSAs test only math and reading in certain grades, the state teachers union estimates less than 30% of teachers will be getting evaluated through the MSAs individually. But other teachers will be evaluated through the School Progress Index, which uses results of the MSAs to evaluate school performance as a whole.
Teachers evaluations are used to determine raises in Baltimore City. Other jurisdictions use teacher evaluations differently, but if a teacher gets a low rating, the superintendent can place him or her on a second class teaching certificate, effectively freezing the salary level and putting him or her at risk of firing the following year, said Kristy Anderson, general counsel for MSEA.
Reinhard said the state originally wanted standardized tests like the MSA make up 30% of the evaluation, but agreed to lower it to 20%. In some school districts such as Prince George’s County, the state is allowing 15% be based off of individual MSA results and the other 5% to be based on the School Progress Index. MSDE plans to re-evaluate the system every year, he said.
“The goal of this program has always been improved classroom instruction at the teacher level,” said Reinhard.
Lawmakers concerned about fairness
Legislation addressing this issue was proposed this year by Del. Dana Stein , a Baltimore County Democrat, (HB1174) and Sen. Nancy King, a Montgomery County Democrat.
The bills died in committe, but the lawmakers said they remained concerned about fairness for teachers.
“It’s not right for them to be evaluated in part on the results of tests that have no bearing on what’s being taught for the new curriculum,” Stein said. “I still believe the idea behind the bill makes sense.”
The issue was first brought to his attention by the teachers union in Baltimore County, which presented it as teachers’ top concern at a legislative pre-session breakfast.
As an executive director of a nonprofit organization, Stein said he wouldn’t want 20% of his evaluation to be based on faulty data.
“Twenty percent is not an insignificant amount,” Stein said. “I really feel it shouldn’t be any part of it.”
Sponsors say federal funds not endangered
The analysis of the bill, SB775,by the state Department of Legislative Services said that dropping the MSA requirement could endanger the state’s Race to the Top funding. But Stein and King argued that MSDE could request a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education, which had approved waivers from other states.
King said she put the bill in to make sure there was discussion on the topic. She served on the Montgomery County Board of Education until 2002, when she was elected to the House of Delegates.
She said it is more a question that teachers be treated fairly than whether they will be disciplined as a result of the MSAs.
“We’ve got two years before the new test is involved, but we’re going to be grading these teachers on an old test with a new curriculum,” she said. “It just doesn’t add up.”