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Maine Teacher Evalutions: How Much Should Student Performance Count?
01/28/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

A new system for evaluating Maine's public school educators is moving forward, but not without reservations on the part of some teachers and principals. The Maine legislature passed - and Gov. Paul LePage signed - a bill to overhaul evaluations last year. A proposed rule implementing the new law would make student progress in the classroom count for at least a quarter of a teacher or principal's evaluation. But at a public hearing this afternoon, some educators argued that number is too high. Jay Field reports.

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Maine Teacher Evalutions: How Much Should Student
Originally Aired: 1/28/2013 5:30 PM

It's important, first, to understand the political climate surrounding the debate over evaluations. It's not a stretch right now to say that some teachers feel as if they're under siege. Just this morning, Gov.ernor Paul LePage continued hammering away at what he believes is to blame for the state's lack of competitiveness and shortage of skilled workers.  LePage says Maine's K-12 education system isn't cutting it.

Unionized teachers, he's said on more than one occasion, are a big part of the problem. Kate Sheldon, who's a member of the Maine Education Associaton, teaches at a school in Kittery. Sheldon came to Augusta with lots of questions about the proposed evaluation rules, but kicked off the hearnig by giving voice to teachers' frustration with the governor.

"At our school, Mr. LePage's behavior would be classified as bullying and he would be sent to the principal's office," she said. "However, we do not have that authority and are made to listen to his constant stream of insults and putdowns."

Sheldon says it's not possible to separate the governor's criticism of teachers, principals and school administrators from the debate going on over the right way forward on evaluations. Under the new law, school districts will follow guidelines, laid out by the Maine Department of Education, as they set up their own systems for grading teachers.

The most controversial part of this proposed road map, many teachers say, is a requirement that a student's academic performance count for at least 25 percent of an educator's rating, as Highly Effective, Partially Effective, Effective or Ineffective. Sheldon says that's setting teachers up to fail.

"As someone who has spent some time in the private sector, I certainly understand the need for a comprehensive evaluation system," Sheldon says. "However, as teachers, we are being asked to evaluated on our performance, not our students. There are so many factors that affect student achievement that are outside of our control. There is also no way to gauge which specific teacher deserves credit for gains, or punishment for falling behind."

Across the U.S., 37 states have made some kind of change to their teacher evaluation policies in the past three years, while 30 require some kind of objective evidence that kids are actually learning.

"The important thing is that a teacher shouldn't be able to get an effective rating if the objective evidence suggests that teacher is not very effective," says Sandi Jacobs, who oversees state policy with the National Council on Teacher Quality in Washington. Since 2007, the non-profit has been pushing to improve teacher evaluation systems across the country.

Jacobs says states are currently all over the map on how much student performance ought to factor into evaluations. Jacobs says in states that actually have proposed a sizable percentage, like Maine, teachers may worry that performace on standardized tests will now heavily influence their evaluations, and ultimately, their pay and job security.

"But of the states that have those larger percentages, generally there are multiple measures making up that percentage," she says. "So it's not that one single test score counts for 40 or 50 percent."

In Maine, for example, the proposed rule says districts can't base their assesment of student growth on attaining a certain level of performance on a test. They have to look at the growth in classroom performance over time. And higher achievers aren't expected to make as much growth as students at the lower end of the ladder, who have more room to improve.

Deborah Friedman directs policy and programs at the Maine Department of Education. Friedman, who helped write the evaluation blueprint, says she expects the student growth component to come up when she and her team sit down to review comments on the rule.

"This rule has to go before the legislative committee for approval before we can finally adopt it," she says. "So we expect some additional conversation in the legislative process."

Next year, local districts will be required to come up with their evaluation plans. The year after, they'll pilot them before the systems are officially implemented in the 2015-2016 school year. 


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