May 24, 2018
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Democrats move Maine teacher evaluation rules forward after scolding from Bowen

By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — A dust-up around the introduction of new teacher and principal evaluation rules appeared to calm Tuesday with Democrats vowing to pull the measure into the process within a week.

At issue are rules written by the Department of Education in response to a bill enacted last year that calls for a system of evaluating teachers and principals and helping those with low scores improve. Department of Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen went on the offensive over the issue on Friday, asking majority Democrats why they still hadn’t brought the rules to the Education Committee and full Legislature some seven weeks after the rules were presented.

Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said on Friday that he held the measure up so he and his caucus could see what other education initiatives Bowen and Gov. Paul LePage would bring forward as the legislative session comes to a close.

Rep. Bruce MacDonald, D-Boothbay, co-chairman of the Education Committee, said the rules would come to his committee next week but that they might be in line for some changes, particularly around how much student test scores should count toward a teacher’s evaluation. The Department of Education proposed that test scores comprise 25 percent or more, while education associations and Democrats generally favored a lower percentage.

MacDonald sponsored LD 751, An Act to Limit the Effect of Standardized Tests on Teacher Evaluations, to deal with that issue. The bill originally called for test scores to comprise no more than 10 percent of evaluations, though the Education Committee amended that provision in the bill Monday to a cap of 20 percent. The bill came out of committee with a majority ought to pass as amended recommendation.

Rep. Matthew Pouliot, R-Augusta, said he offered the amendment in hopes of finding compromise between Republicans and Democrats.

“I thought 20 percent was a good attempt to reach compromise and be at least close to where the department wanted to be,” said Pouliot. “I think a child is more than a test score, but we need some empirical data to support the claim that student achievement is important. If tests are good enough for our students, why are they not good enough for our teachers?”

MacDonald said he still agrees with research that shows standardized tests are biased — particularly against socioeconomically disadvantaged students — but that he was satisfied with the amendment.

Bowen said he hadn’t seen the details of MacDonald’s amended bill but will be satisfied by the evaluation rules as long as they give local school districts some leeway to implement their own systems.

“I’m glad to hear we’re moving forward,” said Bowen.

The Education Committee’s clerk said Tuesday that the measure hadn’t been scheduled yet, though Senate Chairwoman Rebecca Millett, D-South Portland, announced that the measure would be taken up next week.

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