Md. schools superintendent supports delay of teacher evaluations based on Common Core tests

By Glynis Kazanjian

Md. schools superintendent Lillian Lowery

Md. schools superintendent Lillian Lowery

Maryland’s superintendent of schools told lawmakers Wednesday that she supports legislation that would delay evaluating teachers on new Common Core student assessments for two years until the 2016-2017 school year.

Maryland was supposed to have fully implemented the curriculum based on Common Core standards this school year. UPDATED 2/25/2014 3 p.m. In almost all of Maryland’s school systems except Montgomery and Frederick, teacher evaluations are now partly based on student test scores based on the Common Core standards.  Part of the new curriculum requires annual teacher evaluations to be based on standardized student test scores.

But teachers, parents and legislators argue that schools haven’t had adequate time to adjust to the program, which is still underway. Legislation introduced by Sen. Nancy King, D-Montgomery, a former school board member, would give teachers a reprieve until 2016.

“We realize this is a heavy lift,” said State Superintendent of Schools Lillian Lowery. “That’s why we agree with the tennets of slowing this down. Our teachers need at least two more years to address [Common Core] standards and get their resources together, before we start talking about accountability.”

Lowery was testifying before a Senate education committee on several Common Core bills, along with Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Joshua Starr, Maryland PTA president Ray Leone and representatives from Maryland’s largest teachers union.

Affirming local control of teacher evaluations

Another bill, sponsored by Sen. Rich Madaleno, D-Montgomery, affirms the right of local school boards to set specific criteria for teacher performance evaluation.

When it adopted Common Core standards, Maryland also passed the Education Reform Act of 2010 which set general guidelines for teacher performance evaluations and gave the Maryland State Department of Education the power to approve them. Teachers, parents and lawmakers say the state is abusing its power and has been heavy-handed with demanding certain criteria be met.

Md. Schools Supt. Lillian Lowery and Sen. Richard Madaleno.

Md. Schools Supt. Lillian Lowery and Sen. Richard Madaleno.

“The state should not enforce a one size fits all [criteria],” Madaleno said. “SB910 follows the law. The counties have the authority to set individual performance criteria.”

Teacher evaluation plans from seven of Maryland’s school districts were rejected by the state because they did not include test scores as 20% of the criteria for evaluating teachers, said Sean Johnson, legislative director of Maryland Student Education Association (MSEA). MSEA represents 71,000 educators in Maryland.

“The administration in Washington has an agenda,” said Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince Georges, a former educator and member of the education committee hearing the bills. “We decided there should be a general framework and let the locals decide the details. We’re concerned we are going to have our hands tied behind our backs.”

Seeking legislative review of waiver requests

Madaleno also called for a change in law that would require the legislature and governor’s office to review requests for federal education waivers associated with Common Core before they are submitted by the state education department.

By adopting the Common Core curriculum, Maryland got federal funding through President Obama’s Race-to-the-Top initiative. It can also be penalized if certain requirements aren’t met.

No Child Left Behind is still the operative federal law, and the U.S. Department of Education must grant waivers from its provisions in order to implement Common Core standards and curriculum, which the Obama administration prefers.

“We need a system for some overview,” Madaleno told the education committee panel. “We have to live with the consequences or financial penalties in a decision that we never had a role in, in the first place.”

Currently, the state education department can submit waiver requests without any legislative review. Lowery said she opposes Madaleno’s oversight bill.

Pinsky formally requested to see the language of a waiver request soon to be submitted by Lowery.

“Are we going to get stuck once again, that federal legislation drives our policy?” Pinsky said.