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After trying out a new evaluation system for Calvert County teachers, some are unsure if it is ready to be put into place next school year.

Calvert public schools, along with 21 out of 24 of the school districts in Maryland, recently completed a field test of the state’s model for a new teacher evaluation system mandated by the federal Race to the Top Act.

Under the new evaluation system, teachers will be judged on student performance in addition to professional practices, according to the Maryland State Department of Education website.

The evaluation model is based on the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching. Danielson advises school systems internationally and is known for creating programs that address teacher effectiveness.

“The county’s current evaluation system in based on the Danielson model; moving strictly to the Danielson model is not a big deal for us,” said Plum Point Middle School Principal Zach Seawell.

Each of the school districts in Maryland must use the state’s model or create a model using the Danielson framework, and then it must be approved by the state, Calvert County Superintendent Jack Smith said.

“It has to be agreed upon [by school officials and the Calvert Education Association] by mid-May and implemented by August,” Smith said.

According to Smith, the Calvert evaluation plan has already been reviewed and approved by the state. The new teacher evaluation model will be used starting in the 2013-2014 school year.

“Really, the issue is how do we merge professional data and student growth,” Smith said of creating an evaluation system that is deemed fair.

Debbie Russ, president of the Calvert Education Association, the union representing teachers in the system, agreed.

“We are concerned about the workforce, that they are observed under a fair and equitable model,” she said.

Currently, Calvert schools evaluate the professional performance of the teachers every year.

The new evaluation will include student growth and, in some cases, teachers could be evaluated using up to 20 percent of their students’ Maryland School Assesment scores, Student Learning Objectives and on the School Progress Index, according to documents obtained through the Calvert schools’ website.

According to MSDE, tenured teachers will be evaluated using a three-year model. In the first year, the teacher will be evaluated on their professional practice and student growth. If the teacher receives a score of “effective” or “highly effective” the first year, the same professional performance evaluation will be used in the second year along with the most recent student growth data. If the same results occur in the second year, the teacher will be graded again in the third year on the same professional performance evaluation rating and the most recent student growth data. In the fourth year, the process will begin again.

According to Seawell, who is participating in the field test for teacher evaluations along with all other principals and supervisors in the county, the Student Learning Objective, which is part of the equation, is self-directed by the teacher who is being evaluated. In the beginning of a school year, teachers will decide which aspects of their subject or subjects they want to be evaluated on, and will then set goals for their students. At the end of the year, the evaluation will take into consideration whether the goals were met.

“The basic difference [between the current evaluation and the new one] is we were able to pick that part we wanted to focus on” in the field test, said Betsy Frye, a special education teacher at St. Leonard Elementary School.

Seawell pointed out how it might be difficult for a teacher to choose a goal. “Teachers don’t want to pick a target too low. Also, they don’t want to pick a target they can’t reach,” he said.

While many are critical of the evaluation model, some like the freedom it will allow them.

The Student Learning Objective “gives me more control in the classroom,” Frye said.

While it may be beneficial to teachers in some aspects, some say it may also hinder them. Many teachers, administrators and officials had questions about how the evaluations would affect those who teach students with special needs.

The School Progress Index “will hurt us as special education teachers,” Frye said, due to mental or physical factors that may inhibit the learning progress of special education students.

“The only thing you can’t control is testing,” Frye said.

“If students don’t seem excited or engaged, [the teachers] could get [an ‘effective’ rating rather than ‘highly effective’],” said Donna Ostenso, a first-grade teachers at Sunderland Elementary School, of the three categories teachers will be placed into after evaluation from the principals and supervisors. The other category is “ineffective.” According to Smith, an educator with an ineffective rating will receive professional development help.

“I think the feedback that I have received from teachers is that they are not opposed to getting evaluated ... what they are concerned about are the millions of variables that exist,” Seawell said.

Several of those involved in the field test believed the test was rushed and hope that when the Cavert evaluation model is agreed upon, there will be more training for teachers and administrators. According to Seawell, the field test lasted about four to five weeks. When it becomes the standard evaluation system, teachers will be evaluated over an entire school year.

“It has been a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants” kind of field test, Ostenso said.

“I would love to see [the field test] extended to work out the kinks,” Russ said.

“It is a learning process for everyone,” Frye said.

“We are as prepared as we can be,” Smith said.

“We will do the best that we can; we always do,” Seawell said.

bmonaco@somdnews.com