Data from grades, exams and standardized testing will become a greater focus in MCPS’s teacher evaluation system in the coming years, Superintendent Joshua Starr announced in a Jan. 7 message to the public.
The Maryland Board of Education, in accordance with the “Race to the Top” initiative launched by President Barack Obama in 2009, has mandated that MCPS introduce a system that treats measurable student achievement as a “significant component” in teacher evaluation.
County teacher union president Doug Prouty emailed union member to say the union would fight to keep its professional growth system, saying the state “‘model’ simplistically asserts that teacher effectiveness can be measured by an algorithm and reduced to a single number.”
The Montgomery County Board of Education has yet to decide which specific types of data MCPS will use, MCPS spokesman Dana Tofig said.
This may cause a shift in the way teachers are evaluated, since test scores aren’t formally part of the equation now. MCPS’s current practice calls for tenured teachers to be evaluated every five years and new teachers more frequently.
The process, called the Professional Growth System, starts with a pre-evaluation conference between the teacher and a resource teacher that includes discussion about his strengths and weaknesses, said Beth Rockwell, English resource teacher. The resource teacher then observes the teacher’s class for an entire period, recording everything that happens.
The result is a report that evaluates the teacher’s effectiveness in six areas, including his knowledge on the subject and the learning environment in the classroom. This is followed by a post-observation discussion. The process is time-consuming for resource teachers, taking as many as four hours per teacher, Rockwell said.
In the case of a teacher whose students are performing poorly, MCPS assigns a consultant to help him improve. If the teacher fails to improve, a panel of eight teachers and eight principals can vote to fire him, principal Alan Goodwin said. Since PGS was put into place in 2000, 400 teachers have left MCPS, either by resigning or being fired, Tofig said.
Goodwin raised concerns about the possibility that new standards might force schools to evaluate all teachers annually, instead of the 40 teachers who normally come up for evaluation each year. To save time, resource teachers may have to employ a generic checklist to evaluate teachers instead of writing a thorough essay, he said.
The possible changes have provoked controversy among teachers. Art resource teacher Nancy Mornini noted it would be difficult to quantify her art teachers’ contributions to their students, since there isn’t a common curriculum for many art courses and teachers rarely give tests.
Other teachers fear that the new policy could deter educators from teaching at schools where a significant number of students perform poorly, said Danielle Fus, a Whitman representative to the teacher union.
Yet others, like Marcus Winters, a professor of education at the University of Colorado and a widely regarded authority on teacher evaluation, think this controversy is unfounded. School systems use test scores in teacher evaluations very carefully to eliminate concerns about the difficulty of raising test scores among students with low grades by accounting for overall improvement, he said.
“When these models are done, the entire idea is to measure the teacher’s contribution to student test scores,” Winters said in a phone interview. “We account for the prior achievement the student brings into the class.”
Regardless, the shift towards considering test scores as a part of teacher evaluations will hurt students’ experience in the classroom, Fus said.
“Teachers that know that they are going to be assessed by how students score will focus more on how that student will perform on tests,” she said. “It would be a hindrance to big-picture thinking and critical thinking if we have to spend more time preparing for a multiple choice exam instead of having a discussion about a piece of literature or doing a group project.”
Although Winters acknowledges these concerns, he argues that test scores play a valuable role in teacher evaluation when combined with other measures of effectiveness. Research indicates that test scores can help schools identify poor teachers, he noted.
If MCPS is careful about how it considers test scores in the teacher evaluation process, the information can supplement class observation effectively, Goodwin said.
“It’s not a bad idea to use some data to support whether a teacher is doing a good or bad job,” he said. “You just have to be careful that it’s not too draconian.”