Test scores critical in achievement gap struggle -- Gazette.Net


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They serve as means to gauge progress

As many of the state’s 24 school systems continue to struggle with crafting teacher and principal evaluations that reliably measure effectiveness, the pressures on local officials continue to mount. School systems were required to submit their evaluation proposals to the state, and Feb. 1, nine counties found out formally that their plans had been rejected. Revised plans must be resubmitted by May 15.

State Superintendent Lillian M. Lowery met with local superintendents that Friday. She went over how state law impacts the evaluation process for teachers and principals — more specifically, the state’s Education Reform Act of 2010 and its waiver for the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

That same day, the U.S. Department of Education weighed in on the state’s implementation of the evaluations. The “slow pace of Maryland’s progress needs to dramatically accelerate,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement.

In a nutshell, state and federal authorities want to base more of an educator’s evaluation on standardized test scores. The federal Race to the Top program, which has brought millions of dollars into the state, requires districts to gauge half their teacher evaluations on student growth measures, with at least 20 percent rooted in state test scores.

Meanwhile, under state law, student learning must play a “significant” role in the evaluation of a teacher; state officials have told the counties to make scores from the Maryland School Assessment at least 20 percent of the measure used to determine that learning.

But some school systems as well as the teachers unions favor less reliance on the test scores. They say other factors such as student projects, personal observation, course work and in-class tests should be emphasized.

Evaluating the performance of educators and improving the quality of schools is a complicated matter. Much of the landscape is shaped by the need to close the achievement gap among students, which has remained largely elusive. For better or worse, standardized test scores are an obvious way of gauging how individuals and groups of students stack up against themselves and others. They must be a key part of any evaluation process.