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As many of the state’s 24 school systems continue to struggle with crafting teacher and principal evaluations that reliably measure effectiveness, the pressures on the local officials continue to mount. School systems were required to submit their evaluation proposals to the state, and on Feb. 1, nine counties found out formally that their plans had been rejected. Revised plans must be resubmitted by May 15.

State Superintendent Lillian M. Lowery met with local superintendents. She went over how state law impacts the evaluation process for teachers and principals — more specifically, the state’s Education Reform Act of 2010 and its waiver for the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

That same day, the U.S. Department of Education weighed in on the state’s implementation of the evaluations. The “slow pace of Maryland’s progress needs to dramatically accelerate,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement.

In a nutshell, state and federal authorities want to base more of an educator’s evaluation on standardized test scores. The federal Race to the Top program, which has brought millions of dollars into the state, requires districts to gauge half their teacher evaluations on student growth measures, with at least 20 percent rooted in state test scores.

Meanwhile under state law, student learning must play a “significant” role in the evaluation of a teacher; state officials have told the counties to make scores from the Maryland School Assessment at least 20 percent of the measure used to determine that learning.

But some local school systems favor less reliance on the test scores. They say other factors such as student projects, personal observation, course work and in-class tests should be emphasized.

Some school systems in the state even refused Race to the Top money, at least in part because of the standardized scores. Evaluating the performance of educators and improving the quality of schools overall is a complicated matter. Much of the landscape is shaped by the need to close the achievement gap among students, especially minorities. Educators everywhere are working toward that goal.

Race to the Top exists largely to contribute to that effort. It has called for more rigorous standards and assessments, retaining highly effective teachers and principals and turning around low-performing schools. For years, Maryland has been committed to closing the achievement gap. In 2002, the General Assembly approved a bill requiring the state to provide an additional $1.1 billion for public education by 2008. The legislation came out of the Thornton Commission recommendations, which included equalizing per-pupil spending between wealthy and low-income school districts.

For better or worse, standardized test scores are an obvious way of gauging how individuals and groups of students stack up against themselves and others. They must be a key part of any evaluation process.