Race to Confusion

Posted May 11, 2010, at 6:22 p.m.

Maine’s chances to receive up to $75 million in federal funds to improve the state’s schools have come down to a final three-hour meeting Wednesday in which a group composed mostly of educators will consider adopting a model for using student performance as one of many means to assess teacher effectiveness. If Maine doesn’t allow teacher evaluations to include student performance data, it can’t apply for the federal Race to the Top Funds.

The fact that this linkage must be created in one meeting is ludicrous.

The Department of Education slapped together three bills to change policy, so Maine had a chance to participate in the Race to the Top. One was LD 1799, which would allow districts to link teacher evaluations with student performance data, a requirement of the federal program, which promises more than $3 billion to improve the nation’s schools. It is clear that the current administration is moving toward assessing teacher effectiveness in all its policies and funding.

As originally written, LD 1799 simply sought to eliminate the state’s prohibition on the use of student assessment data in models for evaluation of the professional performance of teachers.

Before the bill was passed, the Attorney General’s Office said it must be convinced there were no barriers to using student performance in teacher evaluations in order for the office to sign off on the state’s Race to the Top application.

After lobbying from the teachers’ union, the Maine Education Association, the bill was changed to create a stakeholders group to review and approve models, which unnecessarily complicated and slowed down what had been a straightforward fix.

The process was further complicated by an executive order from the governor requiring approval of a model by May 14.

The group has met twice and will meet for the final time Wednesday. It has such a short timeline because the state’s Race to the Top application is due June 1.

Rather than devote its time to reviewing evaluation models that have worked well in Maine and other states, the group has spent most of its time trying to figure out what it is supposed to do. With so much time wasted, it now has one final meeting to fulfill its charge.

It doesn’t have time to pick a single model for the state. Instead it should outline parameters that must be met by evaluation models that will later be approved by the group. Or it could list several models that are worthy of further consideration by the group with a provision that two or three ulti-mately will be approved.

It must reassure the attorney general that student performance can be part of teacher evaluations, and that models to do this are forthcoming.

It can do that in one meeting.

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