Superintendent Joe A. Hairston said officials must "simplify… (Baltimore Sun photo by Jed…)
Baltimore County schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston backed away Tuesday from a directive requiring teachers to start immediate use of a complex online grading system after intense criticism from teachers who say the program is cumbersome, time-consuming and redundant.
Hairston's pronouncement marks a setback for an initiative developed and copyrighted by one of his top administrators who hopes to spread it across the state and beyond.
Blaming "miscommunication and misinformation" from educators who raised concerns about the Articulated Instruction Module - or AIM - Hairston said he would work to streamline the program and limit the number of teachers who have to use it.
The system as now constructed would require every teacher to judge each student's performance in 100 different skills.
An emergency superintendent's bulletin mandating the new program was issued Dec. 18. Hairston said yesterday that he was out of the office recovering from knee surgery when the directive was sent. He acknowledged that "there may have been language that was omitted" from the memo that sparked the controversy.
"We are going to have to simplify and bring greater clarity" to AIM, Hairston said in an interview yesterday, his first day in the office in weeks. "We need to make sure we don't make life miserable for our people."
Teachers began complaining almost immediately about the additional work the new reporting system would require, noting that they already collected much of the same information on unit tests in key subjects and through new elementary report cards.
More than 400 comments on the issue have been posted on The Baltimore Sun's Web site, and 2,500 people voted in a poll on a WBAL-TV Web site (with more than nine in 10 opposed to it). Hundreds joined a "End AIM now" Facebook page started only four days ago.
Barbara Dezmon, AIM's inventor and an assistant to the superintendent for equity and assurance, said in an interview before the winter holiday that top administrators decided during a Dec. 16 meeting to require each of the district's 8,000 teachers to use the system by the end of the second marking period in late January. Up to that point, the tracking system was being used on a trial basis in some schools and for some students.
The decision was announced in emergency staff meetings on Dec. 17, and then in the bulletin the next day.
The bulletin says that AIM would be fully implemented but is vague on details.
Dezmon has been working on the program since 1989, and says its objective is to ensure that all minority groups are receiving an equivalent education. Her program is being offered at no charge to school districts in Maryland. Because it is copyrighted, she could sell it to districts in other states.
Yesterday, Teachers Association of Baltimore County president Cheryl Bost said teachers had been told by their principals they must include an AIM report for each subject when they hand out report cards on Feb. 11.
In December, Hairston's staff said the superintendent was aware of the decision and supported it.
Hairston blamed the outcry on some ill-informed teachers who he said were blowing the issue out of proportion and wanting to create a controversy where there was none.
"These people are creating the crisis out there," he said.
Hairston distanced yesterday himself from the decision by top administrators and the way it was portrayed. "I am the superintendent of schools," he said.
Decisions about which teachers will have to complete AIM reports and by when have not been made, Hairston said, even though the end of the semester is only a few weeks away.
But he did say teachers of Advanced Placement classes, music, art and gym, and some other electives would be exempt. Core subjects, he said, would be included.
Verletta White, northeast area assistant superintendent, said a new committee to re-evaluate and "streamline" the program has met twice already and will report to Hairston weekly.
Hairston also said he has been in touch with school board members and the board is expected to hold a public work session on AIM soon. He also has promised to discuss the issue with the teachers' union.
Bost said she was pleased with Hairston's decision. "I am happy that the voices of the association and all of our teachers were taken into consideration," she said. "We look forward to working together to streamline this so that there is no further miscommunication or misinterpretation of what the school system is saying in the future."