Maryland Seeks Amendment to Race to the Top Schedule

Maryland’s Race to the Top pilot program is scheduled to begin in four months, but under an amendment proposed by Maryland Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick, teachers will not be affected until 2014.   The federal program which brought$250 million to Maryland schools, is structured to redesign the way teachers are evaluated and subsequently deemed effective or ineffective.  The upcoming school year was scheduled to be the pilot year for the program, however Grasmick’s amendment would extend the pilot program to 2012-2013, as a second “no fault” year of evaluations for schools. The Gazette reports:

Grasmick said the extra pilot year will help ease teachers’ and administrators’ uncertainties about the program, while giving them more time to suggest ways to improve it and feel invested in the reforms.

“When people actually see it and experience it, a lot of those concerns are going to melt away,” Grasmick said.

But U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has made it clear to Grasmick that the controversial portion of teacher evaluations in Maryland’s application — that 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation must be based on academic growth as indicated by measures such as test scores — cannot be changed without jeopardizing Race to the Top funding.

Although the state education department has 54 Race to the Top projects, such as the expansion of a data system to track student performance, teacher evaluations have been a particularly touchy subject.

Legislators in November voted that the 50 percent figure, also used in state regulations, contradicted the Education Reform Act passed in 2010 that paved the way for Race to the Top.

Grasmick said the extra pilot year also will help address concerns about the new impact of student achievement on evaluations, because the reforms will stress helping teachers become more effective.

But the state teachers union, the Maryland State Education Association, has not ruled out taking the department to court over the issue, Betty Weller, the association’s vice president, said Thursday. The association represents 71,000 teachers.

Weller and Grasmick are co-chairs of the state’s Council for Educator Effectiveness, which is designing the pilot program for new teacher and principal evaluations set to begin next school year. Weller said the pilot will be finalized by June 30, and that she was virtually certain it would have to be fine-tuned.

“In any experiment, and I do believe this is an experiment, unless you can control all except one of the variables, you don’t know which variable made the difference,” she said.

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