Cumberland Times-News

June 23, 2013

Teacher evaluations don’t fully match new curriculum

System based on results of old tests

Meg Tully

— ANNAPOLIS — 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. It has been controversial in some states because of objections to a national curriculum, but Maryland educators seem to be embracing it.

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 percent of the evaluation in most districts will be based on the Maryland School Assessment 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. 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.”

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 of the evaluation will be based on factors such as lesson planning, principal observations and other professional practice criteria. Only 20 percent will be based on the MSA.

“It really is a fairly minimal part of the evaluation,” Reinhard said.

Since the MSAs test only math and reading in certain grades, the state teachers union estimates less than 30 percent 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 on a second-class teaching certificate, effectively freezing the salary level and putting him at risk of firing the following year, said Kristy Anderson, general counsel for MSEA.

“The goal of this program has always been improved classroom instruction at the teacher level,” said Reinhard.