December 13, 2012

Report endorses statewide standards for Maine teacher evaluations

Evaluations have traditionally been left to local districts. Now, districts will continue to oversee the process, but will have to meet the new state standards.

By Noel K. Gallagher ngallagher@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — A task force issued its first report Thursday on how Maine should evaluate teachers – the first time the state has attempted to set common standards for all teachers.

The group was formed after legislation proposed by Gov. Paul LePage was passed by the legislature. It may take several years before a standardized evaluation system is in place, the report said.

“Of the education laws passed last session, this is one of the two most significant,” Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen said Thursday in a statement. “We are extremely grateful for the work of the Maine Educator Effectiveness Council. They met many, many times, put in a lot of hard work, and have helped us move this forward.”

Up to this point, teacher evaluations have been left to local districts. Now the local districts will continue to oversee the process, but will have to meet the new state standards.

So far, the group reviewed evaluation systems in other states and schools and reached agreement on what system to use for teachers and principals. They also started identifying which measures of student learning and growth could be considered as part of teacher evaluations, and which could not.

For example, the state will consider results from statewide, standardized tests, but only under specific circumstances, such as the student must take pre- and post-tests and there needs to be “statistically reliable” samples, which may require 3-5 years of data.

The group also agreed to not consider the following as measures of student learning and growth: student, parent and community perception surveys, high school graduation rates, and certain data required by the federal government.

Setting consistent standards for education was the driving force behind No Child Left Behind and other sweeping education reform efforts. Just last week the president of the American Federation of Teachers proposed a “bar exam” for teachers and referred to the “current hodgepodge approach to teacher certification and licensing.”

“It’s a huge push nationally. It’s bringing together Democrats and Republicans,” said David Connerty Marin, the spokesman for the Maine Department of Education.

“It’s a no-brainer that, in the schools, nothing is more important to student achievement than the teacher. So we need to evaluate them better and we need to support them better,” he said.

The group agreed that the state should use the Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium to evaluate teachers and the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium, should be used for principals. Exemptions would have to be approved by the state.

Using the task force’s findings, the state has drafted a new rule that will start making its way through the legislative process, Connerty Marin said. The group will continue to meet even as a draft rule starts the public review process.

A public hearing on the proposed rule will be held Dec. 27 in Augusta, and written comment will be accepted thorugh Jan. 7. The department will then write up a final rule proposal, which will go before the legislature’s Education Committee, which will hold another public hearing and take written comments before making a decision in the upcoming session.

Details about the rule and hearing schedule can be found on the Department of Education's website.

Connerty Marin said the task force made progress despite the tough issues surrounding teacher evaluations.

“As has been the case for a long time, teachers unions naturally have concerns about how evaluation systems will work,” Connerty Marin said. “There was a lot of discussion about ensuring that evaluation systems won’t be used to simply get rid of teachers that administrators don’t want, and that the evaluations would be fair.

“These are the kinds of things the council wrestled with and we wrestled with,” he said. “They are mindful and cautious about being assured that we do it right - that we don’t create a system that isn’t fair and doesn’t get us to where we want to be.”

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