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Two years of collaborative effort between the Charles County school system and the teachers union to create evaluation systems for teachers and principals was rejected by the state without explanation.

Charles County is one of seven school systems currently piloting new evaluation systems that came about through the Education Reform Act of 2010, which mandated that Maryland schools overhaul their evaluation practices.

Each district is allowed to develop its own model, and the system wants to put more emphasis on student growth.

School staff learned late in January that its evaluation plan for teachers and principals, currently being piloted at 14 schools with 140 teachers, was rejected by Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Lillian M. Lowery.

In a letter to Charles County Public Schools Superintendent James E. Richmond, Lowery wrote that the school system’s plan for teacher and principal evaluations is “not approveable.”

In the letter, Lowery states that the school system would now have to default to the state evaluation models for teachers and principals.

Richmond said that he and other superintendents who learned of their plans being rejected are “bewildered,” as no explanation was given.

“I have no idea how to fix it,” Richmond said, adding that he doesn’t know what is wrong.

Bill Reinhard, spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education, wrote in an email that eight systems have not received approval: Baltimore, Carroll, Cecil, Charles, Frederick, Montgomery, St. Mary’s and Washington counties. Prince George’s County received approval for its principal evaluations but not its teacher evaluations.

Reinhard explained that three systems are using the state model, Anne Arundel, Calvert and Somerset counties, and have until March 30 to submit a local plan if they choose.

Twelve counties gained approval for their plans.

Reinhard explained that counties can continue to pilot evaluation plans through the school year and may resubmit plans in May.

In the current pilot evaluation for Charles County, principals will be evaluated 50 percent on professional practice and 50 percent on student growth.

The professional-practice portion of the evaluation is based on the Maryland Instructional Leadership Framework. It is broken into eight sections, including school vision, school culture and use of technology and data. Principals score points based on the eight sections to reach 50 percent. The other 50 percent is tied to student growth. The breakdown varies based on the level a principal is administrating.

For example, a principal at an elementary or middle school is evaluated 10 percent based on Maryland School Assessments, tests given to students in grades 3 through 8 in math and reading to satisfy requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The new Student Progress Index, which aims to have schools make progress based on individual targets, makes up 5 percent of the evaluation, and 35 percent is based on school and system student learning objectives, or goals the school system would like to see achieved. If a principal is working on a specific goal, the evaluation looks at what is getting done to reach the goal.

High school principals have similar breakdowns but replace MSAs with High School Assessments.

Richmond and Meg MacDonald of the Education Association of Charles County — the teachers union — suspect the issue may be with only 10 percent of the evaluation tied to state tests, but neither could say for certain.

MacDonald said the union and school system staff have worked together on creating the models for two years and have complied with state law and guidelines through the whole process.

“It is [EACC’s] position that the state board of education has no authority to reject our locally developed evaluations that we did for principals and teachers,” MacDonald said.

Referring to the Education Reform Act of 2010, MacDonald said, “I don’t believe Dr. Lowery and the state board will be able to point to anything in our evaluations that are out of compliance with rules and regulations.”

Richmond said he understands that the rejection means the system would revert to the state model if it doesn’t do something, “but we don’t know what the something is. ... We thought we did everything that was asked of us,” he said.

Richmond said the school system would move forward with the model it is piloting for now because “we can’t fix what we don’t know.”

Teachers are evaluated for professional practice by looking at planning and preparation, instruction, classroom environment and professional responsibilities.

For student growth, evaluations are broken into various categories depending on the teacher’s grade level and whether their class takes MSA tests and/or the Charles County quarterly assessments.

Richmond said he is looking to get an explanation of the rejection and that there needs to be better communication between the U.S. Department of Education, MSDE and local school systems.

As for the model the school system came up with, “We believe in it; we think it’s a good model,” he said.

gphillips@somdnews.com