Maine gives teachers say in evaluating whether they’re making the grade

Educators are debating what role standardized tests like the one taken recently by students at the Miles Lane School in Bucksport should play in evaluating teachers.
Educators are debating what role standardized tests like the one taken recently by students at the Miles Lane School in Bucksport should play in evaluating teachers. Buy Photo
Posted May 01, 2014, at 6:02 p.m.

FARMINGTON, Maine — Mt. Blue High School biology teacher Doug Hodum has been working for a year with about 20 teachers, administrators and a parent to develop a system for how he and his colleagues will be evaluated.

The all-volunteer group first met a couple of times a month but recently has been meeting every week to analyze a new state law that requires educator evaluations. Members have reviewed evaluation models and picked the one they think will work best for their district.

Hodum said that seeing stakeholders collaborate on this process has been rewarding.

“A lot of times teachers tend to be reluctant to have our voices heard,” he said. “We’re so accustomed to people telling us, ‘This is what you’re going to do.’”

“All of a sudden they realized, I have a significant say in how we’re being evaluated,” he said.

On Thursday, the state Legislature voted to ensure that teachers like Hodum would play a substantial role in the development of educator evaluations. It passed into law a bill that establishes guidelines for the evaluations, which includes an amendment that calls for the creation of a committee of which a majority of members are teachers to develop the educator evaluation tool.

Gov. Paul LePage and some House Republicans were not in favor of the amendment.

“Allowing evaluations to be written by the evaluated is unwise, and creating a patchwork system of evaluation across the state defeats a major goal of teacher evaluations in the first place,” wrote Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport, in a statement that was released after the House voted to override the governor’s veto of the bill.

The law also gives school districts the authority to decide how much of the evaluation is determined by test results. If local stakeholders cannot reach agreement, the test portion would make up 20 percent.

“I thought it was a good compromise,” said Rep. Peter Johnson, R-Greenville, who submitted the amendment. “It helped with local control.”

“Everybody in a community knows who the good teachers are,” he said. “It’s unbelievably complex trying to get definitive measures.”

The amount of the evaluation that is tied to tests has been a point of contention.

“If a student in a classroom shows no progress on the same test by which all other students at that grade level in Maine are being assessed, then the student has not learned,” wrote Gov. Paul LePage two weeks ago in a letter explaining why he vetoed the bill with the amendment. “When this is the case, then at least 20 percent of that failure must be rooted in teaching and that teaching and that teacher should be held accountable.”

Despite the disagreements, districts across the state have been working on teacher and principal evaluation systems in preparation for the 2015-16 school year when state law says the evaluations must be in use. School districts must pilot their evaluation system and get it approved by the Department of Education before then, however.

According to the guidelines, educators will be rated highly effective, effective, partially effective or ineffective based on the evaluation.

Mary Paine, the Department of Education’s educator effectiveness coordinator, said that no matter what, student assessment will have to be a significant factor in determining an educator’s rating.

But she said that the goal is to measure students’ growth, not how well they do on tests.

“People think students must reach a certain level of achievement or it’s going to reflect badly on teachers,” Paine said.

In fact, the guidelines say that teachers must be evaluated on whether students progress during the time they are with a particular teacher.

“You’ve got a beginning point and an end point,” she said. “You’ve got [to see] a change in student knowledge over time.”

She also said that districts are not bound to use statewide standardized tests to measure that change.

Administrators said they embrace the use of data but are wary of the student test portion of the evaluation.

“We do not believe one-time, high-stakes tests without a direct correlation to an individual teacher’s performance is appropriate,” said Betsy Webb, superintendent of the Bangor School Department. “We do believe that teachers should be able to meet students at their level and be able to move them along to higher levels of proficiency and that this should be part of the evaluation process.”

Webb said that the Bangor School Department has a committee that has been developing an evaluation tool for five years and that it is working on an evaluation that would tie 20 percent of the evaluation to test results.

The Portland School Department’s chief academic officer, David Galin, said his department also has been working on a tool for years. He said he believes all teachers and the principal should be evaluated based on the performance of all students. In other words, teachers would not be evaluated based only on the scores of the students they taught, but on how well the whole school performed.

“My professional opinion on connecting student growth and achievement data to educator evaluation is that this is most appropriately done at the full school level and should include multiple measures including state assessment, ACCESS for ELLS scores, and other agreed upon measures,” he said.

Paine said that in her role with the Department of Education, she has spoken with teachers from across the state and they are eager to get the evaluation process right.

“I’m going to say personally that I’ve never seen such a concerted effort to look at our profession … and figure out how to do things better,” she said.

 

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