Friday, December 6, 2013
Maine is taking its first concrete steps to establish common standards for evaluating teachers' performance.
On Thursday, a task force announced that it had reached agreement on a system to rate teachers and principals, while state officials proposed a rule change to spell out how that new standard would be applied.
The task force was formed this year after the Legislature passed a law establishing a standardized evaluation system to be in effect by the 2014-15 school year.
In addition to agreeing on the evaluation system, the task force began identifying which measures of students' learning and growth could be considered in teachers' evaluations, and which could not.
For example, the state will consider results from statewide standardized tests, but only under specific circumstances, such as using only "statistically reliable" samples, which may require three to five years of data.
The group also agreed not to consider certain factors as measures of students' learning and growth, such as student, parent and community surveys or high school graduation rates.
Past teacher evaluations in Maine have been left to the school districts. The districts will continue to oversee the process, but will have to meet the new state standards, including a provision that teachers who are rated ineffective for two years can be dismissed.
Setting consistent standards for education was the driving force behind the federal No Child Left Behind Act and other sweeping education reform efforts. 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."
Maine began its effort to establish statewide evaluation standards several years ago, in part because the federal government required states to establish standards to qualify for federal Race to the Top funds.
"It's a huge push nationally. It's bringing together Democrats and Republicans," said David Connerty-Marin, 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 task force agreed that the state should use the Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium to evaluate teachers and the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium to evaluate principals. Exemptions would be allowed, with approval by the state.
The proposed rule change will now start making its way through the legislative process, Connerty-Marin said.
A public hearing will be held Dec. 27 in Augusta, and written comments will be accepted through Jan. 7.
The Department of Education will write up a final rule proposal by Jan. 11 to put before the Legislature's Education Committee, which will hold another public hearing and take written comments before making a recommendation to the Legislature.
One recommendation is already causing alarm, said Lois Kilby-Chesley, president of the Maine Education Association.
The draft rule says that 25 percent of a teacher's score will be based on students' learning and growth -- even though the task force could not reach consensus on that point.
"We had been saying (in the task force) that it should be no more than 10 percent," Kilby-Chesley said Thursday. "We were terribly surprised when we saw that."
She said students' growth is only one of several factors to measure a teacher's effectiveness, and shouldn't carry so much weight.
She said there is no standard for how much a student's performance should count toward a teacher's evaluation.
"It's really a huge range," she said. "Seventeen states don't even use student growth. Others use 10, 15, 25 percent. Florida uses 50 percent."
Kilby-Chesley said she has already raised the issue with Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen, but she declined to characterize the conversation or his response.
Connerty-Marin said there are difficult conversations over teacher evaluations, and praised the task force for its work.
"As has been the case for a long time, teachers unions naturally have concerns about how evaluation systems will work," he 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."
Staff Writer Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at: