Maryland bills would postpone changes to teacher evaluations -- Gazette.Net


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Unhappy with the state’s new requirements for teacher evaluations, officials from Maryland school systems and teachers unions are hoping lawmakers can help them push back changes for a few years.

State delegates and senators are considering legislation that will let local systems hold off on rating their teachers on their students’ state test scores until new tests are in place that match the new curriculum teachers are using.

The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Nancy King (D-Dist. 39) of Montgomery Village, was heard by a committee Wednesday. The house bill, sponsored by Del. Dana M. Stein (D-Dist. 11) of Baltimore County, was heard by a committee March 6.

Nine of 24 local systems were told by the State Department of Education in February that they had to use student performance on a state test — the Maryland State Assessment — to rate 20 percent of a teacher’s effectiveness starting next school year.

The Maryland State Assessment no longer matches what is being taught in classrooms, as local systems have changed their curriculum under the Common Core State Standards and teachers have been told not to continue teaching what is on the tests just because it is on there, according to Montgomery Superintendent Joshua P. Starr.

Teachers and school system officials from Charles and Montgomery counties and the Maryland State Education Association, the state teachers’ union, testified in support of the bills Wednesday, calling it a matter of fairness.

Headlines around the country have shown the detrimental effects when states rush into education reform, said Betty Weller, president of the state’s teachers union.

“We are trying to avoid that with this bill today,” Weller said.

The tests and curriculum will be out of sync until the new test — the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers assessment — is given, which will be as soon as the 2014-15 school year.

The Maryland State Department of Education testified against the bills, saying they would violate the terms of two federal reform contracts, a waiver for No Child Left Behind and an application for Race to the Top.

Pushing back implementation of the evaluations would require the state to risk losing $37 million from the U.S. Department of Education for Race to the Top, and would potentially void the state’s No Child Left Behind waiver, forcing schools to go back to old school-accountability measures, said David Volrath, team lead for principal and teacher evaluations for the Maryland State Department of Education.

Prouty said later he thinks this is being used as a “bargaining chip.”

“I don’t know that they have asked for a return of funding from any other state,” Prouty said.

Montgomery and other local systems believe their systems are in complicance with the laws. Tom Israel, executive director for the Montgomery County teachers’ union, said last month the union had been talking to the U.S. Department of Education and the governor’s office about how the system can move forward.

Starr said there is confusion about the rules that local systems must follow, what “folks were notified of and who had the authority to do what.”

“I came into this midstream and it has been quite confusing to figure out what is what,” he said.

Senators asked Volrath, the only opposing voice at the table, several pointed questions about why the state is not working harder to let Montgomery and others keep their systems intact.

Sen. Paul G. Pinksy (D-Dist. 22) of University Park questioned if the money was actually at risk, and why the U.S. department would punish Maryland schools, which, he and others remarked, are “number one in the nation.”

Volrath said the bills would delay the progress of local systems and cause unnecessary deferments. It would push the work back to “an undefined point somewhere in the future,” Volrath said.

Prouty said Thursday that the senators’ questions and comments made him feel better about what was to come.

Even if the bill doesn’t pass, he said, it was good to make more people aware.

“We are talking with everyone who we think can help or who has decision-making power,” he said.

jbondeson@gazette.net