It may have been a disappointment to many state educators and administrators to find out Maine did not qualify as a finalist for federal funding under the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top program.

However, the state is commendably not letting that decision stop it from continuing to pursue worthwhile reforms inspired by the program on its own.

Now, there’s no question the state’s failure to meet Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s criteria for funding hurt. The state could have been eligible for up to $75 million in extra money for state efforts to reward good teaching.

In order to enter the competition, Maine had to commit itself to factor students’ academic progress into teacher and principal evaluations as a means of directly measuring a given school’s ability to impart knowledge effectively.

As part of the qualification effort, state law was changed to permit the student data to be used for that purpose and to create a 12-member panel to implement the incorporation of such data into the evaluation process.

The denial of funding did not change those new laws, and the panel (with two representatives each from the state Education Department and teachers, principals, superintendents, school boards and special-education programs) remains active.

It is meeting later this week in Augusta to discuss an agenda for implementing changes in the separate ways that teachers and principals are evaluated.

The movement is a good idea on its own merits, because it inputs a higher level of objective criteria — measured improvement in student performance – into a process that certainly has appeared subjective in many ways.

And, as a spokeswoman for the Maine Educational Management Association said, the Obama administration is making student performance data a focal point when considering reauthorization of the current Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which also contains millions of dollars in potential aid for the state.

Thus, the panel’s process, which is intended to finalize recommendations by next July, is a necessary and worthwhile one. Evaluations do need to be improved, and this appears to be one of the best ways to achieve that end.


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