AUGUSTA – Maine’s chance at winning up to $75 million meant to spur education reforms vanished last month when the state fell short in the federal Race to the Top competition.

But the state panel that ultimately allowed Maine to enter Race to the Top isn’t done with its work.

That’s because the law that formed the 12-member panel charged with figuring out a way for Maine schools to factor students’ academic progress into teacher and principal evaluations requires that the group continue meeting until next July.

And, education officials say, they haven’t seen the end of a federal push to tie teacher and principal pay to student achievement.

The 12-member group — which includes two representatives each from the Department of Education and groups representing teachers, principals, superintendents, school boards and special-education directors — is preparing for a meeting Thursday in Augusta.

The Department of Education has yet to release an agenda and state education officials didn’t respond to requests for comment last week.

But the teacher evaluation panel agreed in May to take two existing evaluation systems — one for teachers, the other for principals — and work on incorporating student academic data.

That decision can serve as the starting point for Thursday’s discussion, panel members say.

“We have to go through the process of beginning to identify exactly how that’s going to be done,” Lewiston High School Principal Gus LeBlanc said.

In addition, LeBlanc said, task force members need to set up criteria for approving the student data-based evaluation systems that school districts develop on their own.

State law, after all, dictates the 12-member panel needs to preapprove any teacher or principal evaluation method that uses student academic data as a factor.

The panel formed in the spring as Maine’s Department of Education pushed for three bills aimed at bolstering the state’s Race to the Top application.

In order to enter the competition, Maine had to remove the legal barrier that prevented the use of student data in teacher evaluations. The law that did that also formed the 12-member panel, after lawmakers voted in a late amendment favored by the Maine Education Association.

While Race to the Top funds are now out of the question, the panel’s work is no less important, said Sandra MacArthur, deputy executive director of the Maine School Management Association.

The Obama administration, she noted, is making teacher evaluations that incorporate student achievement data a focal point in its proposal for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which would affect millions of dollars in funds for Maine schools.

“We still need to try to improve student achievement, and one of the ways we can do that is to support our teachers and help them improve their teaching ability,” MacArthur said. “We also need to help our principals and provide our administrators with the tools they need to do effective evaluations.”

The Maine School Management Association is the umbrella organization for the Maine School Superintendents and Maine School Boards associations.

Maine Education Association President Chris Galgay said he hoped the final outcome of the evaluation panel’s work — which needs to wrap up its work by July 1, 2011 — is a teacher evaluation system that’s fair and constructive.

“If we’re moving forward to have a quality evaluation system statewide, we would love for that to happen,” he said.

Teachers “want someone to give them feedback on their practice, not necessarily about an employment decision, but they want feedback on their practice.”

Galgay declined to specify to what extent those evaluations should account for students’ academic progress, but said he would discuss that in greater depth on Thursday.

“I can accept the concept of using student outcomes in evaluating teachers and principals,” said LeBlanc. “Some people have a lot of heartburn with that. I don’t.”

But those devising evaluation systems have to figure out how to account only for those factors schools control, he said.

“There are a lot of factors that contribute to student achievement and outcomes,” LeBlanc said.

“Some of the factors are under the control of school systems. There are some things we can’t control.”


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