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Teachers and principals in St. Mary’s are facing new evaluations that will include student test scores as one measure of their job performance. But exactly when the new system goes into effect is unknown.

The new system must base 50 percent of the evaluation on professional practice and 50 percent on student growth, which includes classroom test scores. It will rate teachers and principals into one of three categories — ineffective, effective or highly effective.

St. Mary’s public schools evaluation model was initially rejected by the state, but when resubmitted gained approval earlier this month.

“We’re locked and loaded,” and ready to put the new evaluation system in place for all teachers next year, Scott Smith, acting assistant superintendent of instruction, said. Maryland schools were to move exclusively to the new system next school year, but protests from educators and an announcement this month from the U.S. Department of Education allowing states to wait another year leave the plans in limbo.

For now, St. Mary’s schools will use both the current and the new models again next year if the state delays its implementation, Smith said.

“If they back off, I think it’s wise,” Superintendent Michael Martirano said.

Martirano, who was named this year as president of the Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland, said the group recently sent a letter to the state superintendent’s office about inconsistencies and the untimely rollout of the new evaluation system, just as a new core curriculum is being adopted.

Martirano said the reform effort should be done in the following order: put in place the new curriculum; give the new student tests related to that curriculum; and finally evaluate teachers using, in part, student results from those new assessments.

“So, let’s slow this train down,” Martirano said.

Maryland schools have been switching to the new curriculum, which does not align entirely with the current state tests given to students. New standardized tests are expected to be given to students in the 2014-2015 school year.

In the meantime, some concepts on the Maryland State Assessments may not be included in the new curriculum lesson plans, educators said.

“This is wrought with opportunities for failure if it’s not done right,” Martirano said.

A difficult road

“The goal [of the new evaluation system] was to maintain local control,” Martirano said.

The state education department set general parameters, he said, and local school jurisdictions were supposed to be allowed to come up with their own specifics of how to meet those parameters.

St. Mary’s did just that, or so school officials thought.

“We were, quite frankly, the standard bearers,” he said. The St. Mary’s plan was tested at several local schools, and had even garnered support from the local teachers union, he said.

However, between the time when the evaluation plans were first being developed to when they were due in for state approval, some things changed, including the appointment of a new state superintendent, Linda W. Lowery.

“Last year things shifted with the change in leadership at the state level,” he said.

The state rejected the St. Mary’s teacher evaluation model, along with some other jurisdictions’ plans, earlier this year. School systems could use a generic state evaluation model if they chose not to develop their own plan.

St. Mary’s school officials were told to retool their evaluation plan and resubmit it by June 7, which they did.

Essentially, there was very little substantive difference, Martirano said. The new plan was given a stamp of approval by the state on June 12.

“The biggest change was the way we presented it,” Smith said.

The state said that a full 20 percent of the evaluation needed to be based on state standardized tests. The original plan submitted by St. Mary’s included 10 percent based on the Maryland School Assessments, and another 10 percent was related to local assessments that are in turn based on the MSAs, Smith said.

For the local education administrators, it made little sense to base so much of a teacher’s evaluation on a “lagging indicator” such as the MSA. The plan was reworded, but still counts local assessments as 10 percent of the evaluation.

Jeff Maher, executive director for teaching, learning and professional development, said that every teacher, with the help of a supervisor, sets three targets for what they want to accomplish in terms of student growth by comparing test scores from early in the school year to ones at the end of the school year.

There are processes built in that would mitigate a teacher’s evaluation if he or she had a particularly high number of students who require added attention.

Teachers were given a hypothetical grade on their evaluations using test results this spring. The evaluation that actually counted did not include the test results.

Martirano said St. Mary’s County will not see a rise in teachers with poor evaluations once the test scores are incorporated.

“Our numbers are very low” for tenured teachers who leave based on poor evaluations or for discipline reasons, Martirano said.

Teachers can earn tenure after three years of service. Prior to that they can be asked not to return to teaching based on poor evaluations.

The school system can offer professional development and support to help, but sometimes a teacher may just not work out, Martirano said. There are about five or so teachers a year who fall into this category, he said.

“This may not be for you,” he said. A supervisor or union representative may counsel the teachers to leave.

Smith said supervisors are working on ways to make the new evaluation system more efficient. This spring principals and assistant principals were tied down for days working with teachers individually on their evaluations.

The supervisors must meet with each teacher for half an hour to an hour three times a year. Smith estimated some 500 to 600 hours were spent on evaluations for teachers at just one high school.

Still, he said, the idea behind the new evaluations is worth it. Setting annual goals for student achievement can really help teachers strive, he said.

Maher said some teachers he spoke to think setting those goals and having one-on-one conversations with principals is good for professional development.

jyeatman@somdnews.com