AUGUSTA – Maine’s new acting education commissioner voiced frustration Monday with the state’s process for vetting teacher evaluation models that incorporate students’ achievement data.

Angela Faherty’s comments came as Attorney General Janet Mills again raised doubts about whether she will sign Maine’s application for up to $75 million in federal funds aimed at education reform.

Mills told a panel on Monday that Maine law might not meet federal Race to the Top guidelines.

In Race to the Top, state attorneys general must certify to the federal government that their states have no legal barriers preventing the use of students’ achievement data in teacher evaluations.

Legislators passed a law last month that’s meant to strike down Maine’s 20-year-old student data-teacher evaluation barrier, and formed a panel to pre-approve at least one teacher evaluation model that would allow school districts to use students’ data in performance evaluations.

The panel includes representatives from the state teachers’ union — which pressed for the task force to be formed — and groups representing superintendents, principals, school boards and special-education directors.

Mills’ office has pointed out that the legislation doesn’t require it to approve any new teacher evaluation models.

The Obama administration is pushing to get more states and school districts to use students’ academic progress as an element in teachers’ evaluations and compensation.

The Maine panel has an initial May 14 deadline for approving at least one student data-based evaluation model. The Race to the Top application deadline is June 1.

“May 14 is ridiculous,” Faherty said during an all-day meeting of the panel. “There’s a flaw in the whole design.”

But, she said, “We’re very committed to removing the barrier, perceived, real or otherwise.”

Short of approving an evaluation method, Maine Education Association President Chris Galgay said, it should be sufficient if Maine can show it’s working toward approving and implementing evaluation systems that incorporate students’ academic progress.

The panel has one more meeting scheduled before the May 14 deadline. Members plan to review three evaluation models for teachers and two for school principals in a last-ditch attempt to find an agreeable model.

Afterward, the panel will continue meeting until July 1, 2011, to review and approve additional evaluation techniques from which school districts can choose.


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