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Maryland Officials, Unions Reach Accord on Some Teacher-Evaluation Components


Maryland officials, the state's teachers' unions, and other education organizations have just inked an agreement on part of the state's system for evaluating teachers.

In the plan, announced June 27, the parties agree to improve supports for teachers and principals as they develop goals for student academic growth at the start of each school year. Meeting these "student learning objectives," or SLOs, counts for up to 35 percent of each teacher's evaluation score. 

The memorandum of understanding is signed by the state's board of education, education department, principals' associations, the statewide teachers' union, as well as the Baltimore Teachers Union. It appears to be the first such agreement among so many partners in a state. The agreement also commits the parties to establish a system to monitor and analyze progress in setting up the SLOs and to issue a report in August 2016. 

A lot of places are now using SLOs as part of teacher evaluation, especially for grades and subjects in which statewide data is unavailable. There's evidence that carefully constructed SLOs can help boost student achievement, although some districts appear to be rushing the process.

Maryland officials emphasized the spirit of collaboration and the SLOs' emphasis on providing actionable data for improvement, rather than punishment. 

"The reason our teachers embrace them is that the process gives them an opportunity to look at more than one indicator of how their students are performing and target interventions based on their content expertise," state Superintendent Lillian Lowery said in an interview. "That is very empowering for the teachers, and they feel that they and their administrators will have a better understanding about the work that has to be done and the challenges we face together." 

Absent from the MOU is any mention of statewide testing data, which is required under Maryland's federal waiver from portions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and which the state plans to use as 20 percent of the evaluation score for teachers of English/language arts and math. The teachers' unions have resisted that plan, and the dispute has been a source of tension in Maryland.

State officials are optimistic that the accord over SLOs can help break the logjam.

"By the time we have the data points to use the state assessments, I think teachers will be far more comfortable with using quantitative data," Lowery said.

Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, in May, signed a bill that delayed any consequences for teachers based on state test-score data until the 2016-17 school year. Twenty-two of the state's 24 districts have implemented some kind of revamped teacher-evaluation system in accordance with the state's Race to the Top grant and the final two districts are expected to begin doing so this year.

I'll update this item once we hear from the teachers' unions.

UPDATED, 12:04 p.m.: Here's what the Maryland State Education Association had to say about the agreement:

"SLOs are a really critical piece of evaluations for thousands of teachers across the state," said spokesman Adam Mendelson, "and we're looking forward to collaborating with all these other stakeholders to identify best practices and better support teachers and principals and help fulfill the promise they have to inform and improve student instruction." 

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