Law Would Give Autonomy Back To Local Schools - Southern Maryland Headline News

Law Would Give Autonomy Back To Local Schools


By ETHAN BARTON

ANNAPOLIS (Feb. 20, 2014)—State and local officials disagreed over how to appropriately evaluate teachers and who should hold the power to make such decisions during a Senate committee hearing Wednesday.

A package of bills before the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee would together delay the use of the new student achievement test, called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, and would allow local school systems, rather than the state, to decide how much, if at all, the test would count towards teacher evaluation.

“A one-size-fits-all model will not, and probably never will, work for a state as diverse as ours,” said Sen. Nancy King, D-Montgomery, a sponsor of one of the bills.

The achievement test, which is aligned with the Common Core State Standards, will be pilot tested this spring, and will be completely administered next school year. Without further legislation, student scores on the test will be worth 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.

The problem with this, according to King, is that the Maryland Department of Education forced the local school systems to adopt this evaluation method. Additionally, teachers would not yet be accustomed to the new curriculum.

“Locals need and are entitled to the autonomy the Education Reform Act offers them,” said Betty Weller, president of the teachers’ union, the Maryland State Education Association.

The state Education Reform Act, passed in 2010, allows local school systems to develop teacher evaluations, with the Maryland Department of Education’s plan only to be used if an agreement cannot be made between the local union and district.

“When the default model was developed, it was supposed to be a last resort,” said Sean Johnson, an assistant executive with the teacher’s union, in reference to the state’s teacher evaluation plan.

The state department, however, has forced districts to adopt its plan for teacher evaluations, according to Weller. It used the federal Race to the Top grant restrictions as a stranglehold , she said, adding that Maryland’s application for the $250 million grant was not reviewed by the General Assembly.

The Maryland Department of Education denies that the local districts lost any power.

“It’s a shared responsibility,” said Jack Smith, the department’s chief academic officer. “The goal is to work in collaboration.”

When Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, asked if the state department “forced” local systems to adopt the 20 percent evaluation method, state schools Superintendent Lillian M. Lowery never fully answered the question.

“A part of the waiver process of the Race to the Top process is that if we had state assessments in particular content areas, we had to use those,” Lowery said.

The Race to the Top requirements conclude at the end of September, according to Weller.

One topic both sides agreed upon was that personnel decisions based on student results on the achievement test need to be delayed until at least the 2016-2017 school year, in order to allow teachers to adjust to Common Core.

“Give our teachers a couple of years,” said Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Josh Starr. “We have to allow our teachers the opportunity to understand the standards.”

“We need at least two more years to get our resources together before we start talking about evaluations,” Lowery agreed.

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