Related story: Montgomery’s ‘proven’ system in question
A teacher evaluation system that took Montgomery schools more than a decade to perfect took the state schools superintendent four sentences last week to shut down.
Maryland Superintendent Lillian M. Lowery told Montgomery Superintendent Joshua P. Starr in a Jan. 30 letter that the district’s newest plan for evaluating its nearly 12,000 teachers still is not acceptable under new laws.
In turn, Montgomery may end up having to do what it has tried to avoid, and rate teachers’ performance on their students’ test scores.
Montgomery school system and school union officials will try to find out where they went wrong, and continue to try to maintain the integrity of what they call a proven national model for educator evaluations, said Doug Prouty, president of the Montgomery County Education Association, the county’s teachers union.
If Montgomery chooses not to comply with the state, the state could withhold aid, Starr could be put in jail, or there could be other consequences, Prouty said.
Starr said Monday he knows he has to follow state law, but until Montgomery knows why its plan was rejected, he is not able to make any determination on how to move forward.
“Once the state has provided written feedback, then we will make a decision,” Starr said.
Lowery said that next year the school system will have to use the new Maryland State Department of Education evaluation model, which bases half of teachers’ evaluations on their students’ growth. In some cases students’ state test scores could count for 20 percent or more of that measure.
Montgomery tried to avoid this by not signing on to a federal reform program, Race to the Top. Montgomery gives administrators the option of using state test scores in evaluations.
The scores do not give an overall picture of student learning, and don’t provide an opportunity to judge growth, Prouty said.
Montgomery’s proposal outlined how student data would be used more consistently in teacher’s evaluations, but it did not assign a percentage to the measure or require evaluators to use state test scores.
Districts need to show that they are aligned with other new models across the state and the nation — most of which are coming in with about 20 percent based on test scores, said David Volrath, who leads the teacher/principal evaluation team for the state.
“If they won’t tie the performance of the teacher back to the performance of the kids, it won’t satisfy requirements of the act,” Volrath said.
Race to the Top is meant to improve teacher effectiveness, in order to boost student success, he said.
But Montgomery knows what it is doing, Starr and Prouty say; just look at the data.
Montgomery has the highest graduation rate of all of the 50 largest school systems in the nation, at 87.6 percent, according to the latest data from 2009. Montgomery also is a leader in college readiness exams and Advanced Placement exams. Last year, the percentage of exams taken by Montgomery County students who earned a score of 3 or higher was about 75 percent, compared to 61.4 percent in the state and 57.3 percent in the nation.
“I think the Montgomery County system has proven itself over and over to be a system that uses multiple kinds of student data and gets kids what they need,” Starr said.
But the system has struggled to close some achievement gaps between students of different races and backgrounds, and Starr admits work needs be done.
When last year’s results on state tests for elementary and middle school students came in, they showed that gaps between students of different races were widening in reading.
The state is right to challenge Montgomery’s system, said Kate Walsh, a former member of the Maryland State Board of Education and president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonprofit focused on teacher quality reform.
“Who decided [Montgomery’s model] is a national model is one question,” said Walsh, of Baltimore. “And, two, why are folks so afraid of being accountable for what students learn?”
The relationship between the state and the county has been tense for years, Walsh said.
“It’s not surprising that a district with a long history of top performance would feel at times that the state, in its history, has forced it to compromise its standards,” Walsh said. “... If you think you are doing a really great job and people who are technically over and above you tell you what to do, you are going to get irritated.”
Prouty said Friday he does not know how much hope he has when it comes to convincing the state to let Montgomery’s model stand.
Although Montgomery did not sign on to Race to the Top, it still has to comply with other requirements for the evaluations under the state’s Education Reform Act of 2010 and under the state’s waiver for the federal No Child Left Behind.
Under Race to the Top, Montgomery would have received $12 million. Now, the system may be faced with making some of the same changes the program called for without any funds to help.
Lowery said in a separate statement Friday that systems can resubmit their plans in May, meaning that Montgomery may have another chance at compromise.
“Our systems are working very hard to develop fair and meaningful evaluation programs, putting student work at the very heart of how they review educators,” Lowery wrote.