City panel adopts teacher criteria Yearly evaluations will be based on student performance

December 10, 1997|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

Baltimore teachers will be graded at the end of every school year on how well their students have learned under a landmark teacher evaluation policy adopted by the school board last night.

Under the policy, which puts the city in the forefront of a national movement toward teacher accountability, teachers and their principals would agree to a set of individual goals that the teacher must meet by the end of the year.

For instance, the goal of a fourth-grade teacher might be to raise the reading level of the class to a specific grade level by June. Reading levels might be measured by standardized tests. Or there could be a variety of ways to measure performance.

A music, art or special education teacher will have a different set of goals, as would a high school foreign language teacher. Each teacher will have to document progress to prove goals are being met.

Although no merit increases would be linked to job performance, the best teachers should be rewarded by being made mentors for other teachers or by being sent on educational conferences, said Robert Schiller, the interim schools chief.

To get a satisfactory "grade" at the end of the school year, a teacher must earn at least 70 of 100 points. Achieving the goals for student performance is worth 30 points. A teacher can be dismissed for an unsatisfactory grade.

In unanimously adopting the policy, the school board took a step few school boards across the nation have: Tell teachers and principals their jobs are on the line if their students don't learn.

'Leading the country'

"We are leading the country in this," said Patricia Morris, a school board member.

"Everyone is looking at us, but I think we are ready to step up to the plate."

Two new job evaluation policies were adopted, one for teachers and one for principals. The policies take effect July 1.

Principals may have equally tough goals under the system. They will have to meet goals for raising test scores to a certain level, reducing dropout rates and increasing student attendance.

And if they fail, they, too, can be dismissed.

"This is critical for school reform, because school reform takes place in the classroom," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat active in city school reform efforts.

Teachers are now judged on the process of teaching and such factors as whether they prepare lessons well.

But how their students perform on standardized tests or whether they learn to read, write and do math at certain levels is not part of the job evaluation.

In Baltimore, the process has led to what has been called the "dance of the lemons," a phrase that describes the way principals shuffled bad teachers from school to school rather than attempt the long, difficult documentation needed to fire them.

From 1993 to 1996, 38 tenured teachers among the system's roughly 6,700 teachers were dismissed for incompetence.

New system required

This year, the school board is under pressure to take action. Under a state law that created the state-city management of Baltimore schools, the board was required to adopt a teacher evaluation system that includes student performance as a criterion.

The failure of the city to adopt a system last year cost it $2 #F million in state aid. And Rawlings said another $2 million in state funds was being held in escrow until the new policy was approved.

In addition, $30 million in new state funding may not be used to give teachers raises -- which they have gone without for two years -- until a new evaluation policy is in effect.

School boards across the nation have tried to confront the issue of teacher evaluations, said Jay Goldman, editor of the School Administrator, a magazine of the American Association of School Administrators.

"The system [of teacher evaluations] has not worked in most places," he said.

Attempts to link the performance of the students with teacher evaluations has usually been scuttled by teacher unions, which fear that standardized tests would be the only criterion for their job evaluations. In Baltimore, teachers recognized that the school board -- under heavy pressure from the state to change the evaluation system -- had to take action.

Teachers were also persuaded to accept the policy because it does not rely solely on test scores to judge student performance.

Teachers will not be judged on the performance of students they don't have for the entire school year. So if underperforming students join their classes in May, they will not be responsible for the student's failure.

"If it actually goes into place, I dare say there will be a heck of a lot of attention on Baltimore," Goldman said.

Marcia Brown, Baltimore Teachers Union president, told the board that teachers are deeply concerned that their supervisors will not be adequately trained in how to perform the new evaluations, and that factors beyond their control -- such as whether a school has effective discipline -- can affect whether students learn.

"Follow-through evaluation, real discussion need to be part of this," she said.

Pub Date: 12/10/97

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