- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
New education reform efforts will change what is taught, what is tested and how teachers are evaluated.
Those changes will all stem from the federal Race to the Top initiative, which has trickled down to the board of education and school employees in St. Mary’s County. School staff at a meeting Wednesday updated the board on some of those changes.
The Common Core Curriculum, which aims to align lessons from state to state, will be fully in place across all grades in St. Mary’s public schools by next school year. Most grades and subjects have already begun to replace the current state curriculum with the new lessons.
“This year is that transitional year of moving from the state curriculum to the common core,” said Jeff Maher, executive director of teaching, learning and professional development.
The state is also developing new standardized tests to go along with the curriculum.
The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers is developing reading and math assessments that will begin to be piloted at some schools in Maryland next spring and field tested at all schools the following year. They will actually go into effect in the 2014-2015 school year.
For at least a year or two, teachers are teaching to a new set of lessons but the state is testing to the old set, St. Mary’s school board member Cathy Allen said, comparing it to teaching French but testing Spanish.
Still, Allen said that she is glad St. Mary’s school staff are taking an active role in developing and implementing the new curriculum.
“If you’re not at the table, you’re going to be on the menu,” Allen said.
The new assessment tests are expected to be given on computers.
All of the public schools now have wireless Internet in place, Aaron Foreman, a network administrator for the school system, told the board. He is now making sure there aren’t any “dead spots” within the buildings where the wireless service does not reach.
“We’re moving forward rapidly,” he said.
There was a gap in the Internet capabilities at the schools, he said. That gap is being eliminated thanks to new, faster broadband connections put in place combined with the wireless service, which anyone can access within the school and usually just outside of a school building.
Allen said that she still worries about some students not being able to take the new assessment tests online, saying that the technology should not “prevent them from showing what they know.”
She criticized the Maryland State Department of Education for taking roughly half of the federal grant to help start Race to the Top initiatives in the state.
“We take great pride in putting our dollars in the classroom. I wish MSDE would do the same,’ she said.
The school board will submit to the state its annual master plan, which includes data and other information related to how the school system is complying with the changes.
“We realize we already have excellent alignment,” Scott Smith, executive director of secondary schools and school improvement, said.
The five bridge to excellence goals that once dictated state education are now replaced in the new master plan document with the four assurances from the Race to the Top initiative: aligned standards and assessments; excellent teaching and leadership; data systems; and support for struggling schools.
“It’s been a pleasure to complete, and I’m sure it will be a pleasure for you to read,” Smith said of the 350-page document.
Another component of the education reform is the new teacher evaluation system, which includes student performance on tests as part of what determines a teacher’s job performance rating.
“There’s some anxiety, but that anxiety comes because [teachers] care about their craft,” Piney Point Elementary School Principal Audrey Ellis said.
School administrators are offering professional development to help explain the new evaluation system to teachers and help them document student academic growth.
This year a new locally developed evaluation that includes student performance will be used alongside the current evaluation system. Next school year teachers will be judged exclusively on the new system.
“There’s still lots of things to be worked out” before next school year, Liz Leskinen, UniServ director for the local teachers union, said.
“Generally speaking ... it’s pretty compatible,” based on the pilots in some St. Mary’s schools last year, Leskinen said.
She said there were some examples of teachers earning an ineffective rating based on the current system who received an effective rating once the student performance results were included.
Teachers cannot be terminated solely because of an ineffective rating based solely on student growth.