Tougher standards for teachers School board OKs outline of system for merit evaluations

January 05, 1996|By Jean Thompson | Jean Thompson,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore City school board yesterday adopted the outline of a new evaluation system that would judge teachers' work based on how their students perform.

Described by supporters as a pioneering step to improve Baltimore students' achievement -- and by opponents as an unfair way to measure an educator's performance -- this form of merit-based evaluation is said to be unlike any in other Maryland nTC districts.

Teachers whose students are not improving by the end of one year would be required to undertake training the next. The training would be provided by the school system's professional development department, the plan says. By the third year, if the teacher still cannot produce student achievement, the teacher would be dismissed, it says.

"This is the right thing to do. It is courageous, it is pioneering," said Christopher Lambert, chairman of a task force established by the school board to propose a tougher evaluation system.

The board approved the plan with one school board member opposed and one abstaining.

Arnita Hicks McArthur, who voted against the plan, said: "It is unfair. It is criminal, and I cannot in good faith participate in anything that comes from this. This is punitive. There is more to a teacher's performance than the students' scores. You say that we'll be pioneers -- we'll be out there by ourselves."

She and other board members protested that the task force included no teachers. The Baltimore Teachers Union opposes the concept, and in November, its two representatives to the task force resigned in protest. Union President Irene B. Dandridge has agreed to participate in the next stage of planning to try to make it friendlier to teachers, a union spokesman said.

Board members had talked this week of postponing the vote to more carefully consider the proposal -- which several said they had not had time to read or fully understand.

They were under pressure to act yesterday, however. The General Assembly has directed Baltimore to improve its teacher evaluation system by Jan. 15 as a condition of recovering $5.9 million in state education aid withheld from this academic year's budget.

But the school board's action may not satisfy the legislature because the plan approved last night is not finished. A new task force will flesh it out between now and June, said Brenda Conley, a school system official who presented the plan last night.

However, school officials say they have taken a big step toward answering the legislators' concerns, said Mr. Lambert. A hearing in Annapolis on the school system's management reform efforts is set for Jan. 26.

The task force report yesterday suggested Baltimore follow a system said to be improving teacher performance in Dallas. But much is unresolved: The cost to the city is not known. The size of the staff needed to develop the system isn't clear. The legal implications have not been investigated.

To get started under the plan, city schools would have to devise tests to measure students' progress, probably at the beginning and end of each year. State exams now in use would not work for this purpose, Mr. Lambert said. The Maryland Student Performance Assessment Program only tests children in grades 3, 5 and 8, and the new evaluation system would have to cover kindergarten through 12th grade and every possible subject.

Next, teachers would be ranked based on the students' achievement and observations by superiors, as well as such factors as extracurricular work and efforts to involve parents, according to the framework adopted yesterday. Teachers who do well would be asked to help teach those whose students are not improving.

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