AUGUSTA, Maine — How much weight student achievement should have in evaluating teachers and principals continues to be a major sticking point as the Department of Education prepares a new teacher evaluation program for legislative action.

The department, in rules proposed for public schools that will greet the Legislature in January, wants 25 percent of a teacher’s overall rating to be borne from student achievement. That’s more than double than the 10 percent favored by some members of the Maine Educator Effectiveness Council, which was created by the Legislature to develop the program. According to Maine Education Association President Lois Kilby-Chesley, who said the council never reached consensus on the issue, that means the debate is far from over.

“The proposed rule is not totally aligned to what [the council] has been talking about for the past several months,” said Kilby-Chesley. “In some places the DOE has filled in the blanks in areas where there hasn’t been consensus.”

She added that the MEA also seeks more details around parts of the rules, such as what kind of training will be required of people performing the evaluations and what methods will be used to identify student growth.

“Using the student growth model could cause problems,” she said. “If multiple measures for evaluation are used then that would probably work. If only one measure is used to evaluate student growth and that measure turns out to be a standardized test, it probably won’t work. Occasionally, tests don’t match up to what’s happening day-to-day in the classroom.”

Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen said in a press release that the Legislature’s action on teacher and principal evaluations is of critical importance.

“Of the education laws passed last session, this is one of the two most significant,” said Bowen. “We are extremely grateful for the work of the Maine Educator Effectiveness Council. They met many, many times, put in a lot of hard work and have helped us move this forward.”

The law, which was proposed by LePage and enacted with unanimous support of the Legislature earlier this year, requires school districts to develop and implement systems for evaluating educators based on professional practice, student achievement growth and other measures. There are at least 37 states developing teacher evaluation systems, many of them in order to meet requirements under a waiver process introduced by the Obama Administration under No Child Left Behind or a grant program called Race to the Top.

The rules under development by the DOE set guidelines for local school districts to follow in their teacher and principal evaluations. The goal is to identify where teachers excel, where they could use more training and in some cases, when they aren’t cut out for the profession.

“This is not about weeding out bad teachers,” said David Connerty-Marin, spokesman for the Department of Education. “Yes, there are a few teachers who should go and yes, there are mechanisms here to help that happen. But the goal is to help measure effective teaching and to help provide professional growth and support.”

Connerty-Marin said when it comes to using student achievement growth to measure a teacher’s effectiveness, giving it a weight of 25 percent is the norm, not the exception.

“The requirement from the federal government is that [student growth] be a significant part,” he said. “The lowest we’ve seen in any of the states we’ve looked at was 25 percent, and we looked at quite a few.”

Kilby-Chesley, who is a teacher, said most of her colleagues agree that a teacher evaluation system would ultimately benefit students. .

“Teachers look forward to evaluations that are going to improve their teaching practices,” she said. “The goal of a teacher evaluation should be to improve the practice of the teacher in the classroom.”

LePage, who has made education reform a cornerstone of his administration, said every student in every classroom in every school deserves an excellent teacher.

“And every teacher and principal deserves clear expectations and a fair evaluation process that rewards effectiveness and supports teachers in constantly improving,” said LePage in a press release. “In private business, we call that professional development. Teachers deserve that as much as workers in private industry.”

The DOE is required to propose standards to the Legislature by early January. A public hearing on the evaluation system is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. on Dec. 27, in Room 103 of the Cross State Office Building, which is next to the State House in Augusta. The DOE will accept written comments on its proposal through Jan. 7.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Maine Educator Effectiveness Council reached consensus on what percentage of a student’s achievement should be used in evaluating teachers. The council has not reached consensus on that issue.

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.

24 replies on “Teacher evaluation debate centers on measuring student achievement”

  1. I don’t think anyone would bat an eye at this silly proposal by Mr. Bowen if there were safeguards installed that included granting passes for schools and educators who are exposed to students who don’t show up or if they do, ever bother to participate in the learning process. Why do so many today behave as such? Poor teaching? I don’t think so. My guess is that it has a lot more to do with many parents who consistently demonstrate a lack of interest in participating in their children’s education. What do you suppose politicians have planned to fix the parenting problem?

  2. As a once slightly problematic school student I can tell you this is far to much power to give to students. I took advantage of many situations and if I, as a student, knew my performance helped determine the future of a teacher which I wasn’t getting along with at that time…..well, let’s say I may have used that to my advantage. Just saying…….all starts at home folks.

  3. Teacher evaluations should not be based on the results of standardized student test results. There are too many variables that teachers have little influence over. This is an unfair and ludicrous proposition. Teachers have been blamed for the problems in society far too long. The students should be accountable for their own performance on tests. If they do not do well, teachers can help them improve. Teachers are not allowed to teach to the test, they are not allowed to see the test ahead of time, and they are not given any information as to what the test questions will be asking the students. Yet, there is a proposal to evaluate teachers on the students’ performance on these tests? Ridiculous!

  4. I guess if they are going to do this, then an evaluation should be set up for parents making sure their kids do there homework, attend school, anger management, and other factors. Trying to hold teachers totally responsible is wrong both in the Federal and State Government.

  5. The sooner LePage’s minions are removed from their roles as destroyers of education and murders of good-paying jobs in government (except for LePage’s daughter), the better off Maine will be.

    Letting Republicans and their overlords, the corporations, control teachers is like saying global warming is a hoax, even as the water rises around your feet.

  6. The proposed evaluation system will require a substantial increase in testing, which both costs money and reduces time available for learning.

    Currently, students are not tested every year, and — even when they are — they are not tested in every subject area.

    How are art and music and physical education teachers to be evaluated? Is this to be the death of interdisciplinary learning? And — more to the point — if, for example, a group of students makes significant gains in math, is it possible those gains might actually have been due to the work of a science teacher? Similarly, if a group of students makes substantial gains in their writing, might it possibly have been due to the work of a social studies teacher? Yet the English teacher is the one who gets the good evaluation.

    The proposal is so full of holes, it is worthless.

    1. I believe that this is an attempt by the MHPC to control teacher pay raises. Their ultimate aim is to privatize the school systems and at that point their will be no public input allowed.

    2. That is my question. How are we going to rate the teachers whose subjects are not tested? Math and English are tested and tested and tested- from grades 2-10, yet other subjects are not. Are we going to just “pick on” the people who chose to teach those subjects?
      This is a ridiculous proposal and needs a lot of work before it could possibly become something worthwhile.

  7. If Bowen/LePage are putting forth a proposal for educational reform, it is aimed at undercutting public education. Make no mistake about it, these guys are ardently trying to privatize as much of the state as they can, including the education of our kids. These sell-outs are beholden to the sizable contributions made by out of state virtual schools as well as the ALEC/HPC agenda – not to be trusted.

    1. Absolutely true!!! No doubt whatsoever it’s a piece of the extreme privatization agenda to increase corporate power and weaken the public control.

  8. There are just so many variables that play into this, it is very problematic if we are not VERY careful. We risk driving GOOD teachers away from the profession. Sometimes the best teachers get the very toughest students and growth is very limited. And teachers can only teach the kids they get. They don’t get to pick and choose. If kids have no work ethic, won’t do their homework, have a mess at home with no value of education, no parental involvement, etc. etc. etc. then those are risk factors teachers can’t solve. YES, we need well-qualified effective teachers. YES, we need a good evaluation process for our teachers. But we also have to be careful and measured and FAIR. There are teachers in our bigger schools in the uppper grades who have classloads well over 100 students per year and many of the them are on special plans, are low-functioning learners, etc. etc. The teachers and principals can only do their best. They aren’t miracle workers equipped with magic wands. The students themselves and the parents need to be held VERY, VERY ACCOUNTABLE as well. ALL studies worth their salt PROVE BEYOND ANY DOUBT that two-thirds of all the factors that affect learning occur OUTSIDE the school. The teachers can’t control the nature and nurturing the students.

  9. Interesting how the governor, and the right in general, talk a good game about removing barriers to business growth while at the same time attempting to micro manage teachers.

    They can dress this up as “for the students” but I think it has nothing to do with education and everything to do with eliminating the teachers union and privatizing education. Teachers make a good target.

    Apparently, teachers are expected to be miracle workers who can magically transform students and correct for each and every parental inadequacy. They perform these miracles after jumping through a multitude of regulatory hoops and spending thousands for the privilege of earning a starting salary of $20K while parents and administrators micro-mange everything from textbooks to topics.

    I looked into becoming a second career teacher myself, but after evaluating it decided there is no way I would put myself through all that for low pay and zero freedom in the classroom. It’s a wonder anyone one wants to teach and proof of their dedication to the profession. They are the ones standing in the classrooms trying to teach our children, they are the experts, but seem to be ignored.

    It is yet another example of how we want miracles, we just don’t want to pay for them.

  10. No matter what side you’re on, we all should agree that our education systems need help from Kindergarten to Ph.D..

    This discussion is about assessment of K-12. As has been pointed out, the assessment system needs to be cost-effective. So, you can’t use a measure based upon following some dynamic method of tracking the ups and downs of individual students. You do have to use some sort of measure though. If you’re not going to use standardized tests, what are you to use? Parent opinion?

    The biggest problem I see is that – and I know that some will have a problem with this – the ‘quality’ of students themselves, whether innate or (more often) influenced by outside forces, can vary greatly from year to year. If we are to use a measure, the only way it can work is if it is longitudinal; i.e., that takes the average of a few years’ classes; AND that it can cross-reference the performance of the same students with different teachers: We should be able to appreciate it if there’s one specific cohort of students that does a particularly good job of distracting their teachers and themselves. The second is trickier, but it could still easily be done w/ the same tests as the first.

    I love teachers and love teaching myself. To editorialize for a moment, I view education as a social good, just like healthcare. Keeping a population educated and healthy keeps employees efficient and productive, respectively. That’s good for the economy, and good for YOU. It’s good for everyone, and should be protected and promoted by the government. Access to it is already a right (if barely), and should stay that way. If you privatize education or healthcare, they turn into privileges and luxuries. Does that make sense? … There’s a reason our government already guarantees at least the most basic education and health to its citizens. It’s the same reason firefighting isn’t provided by for-profit companies anymore. It’s so the nation won’t burn to the ground.

    I wish people paid more attention to their history teachers.

    Cheers

  11. If and when teachers are allowed to hold students back in a grade until they learn their subject matter, this might work. As it stands now the kids all know that they can slide by with little or no effort. They know that they have the power over the teachers and no matter what they do, there is almost nothing the teachers can do about it. Those students who have parents that are fully involved in their education will excell or at least reach their potential.
    How can you hold a teacher responsible if they are handed a classroom of students that have been pushed trough the system for several years and are not prepared to do the grade level work required?

  12. Once again the failed teacher, Stephen Bowen, leads the attack on those who have made teaching the nation’s youth their life’s work. One more time, Stephen, let me see if I can explain this so that even your narrow mind might comprehend it; a teacher’s job is to teach, a STUDENT’S job is to learn. Teachers are expected to present material in a logical and organized manner utilizing techniques that HELP students learn, but it is SOLELY up to the STUDENT to learn the material. Let me repeat that very important part-it is SOLELY up to the STUDENT to learn. That means students need to SHOW UP in class, they need to show up PREPARED TO LEARN-that means being able to read, comprehend, and write or otherwise communicate their mastery of the material. STUDENTS must demonstrate MASTERY of the material, no one else, and it is ONLY the STUDENT who can do that. You, Stephen, and your clap-trap committee are still trying to put accountability for LEARNING on the shoulders of the teachers when that is the province of the students. That’s like blaming doctors if their patients don’t lose weight or quit smoking; it’s like blaming the cops if someone commits a crime; it’s like blaming the fire department if a house catches on fire; heck, it’s even as stupid as blaming the gas station attendant for the mileage your car gets. You, and your ilk, like to make a lot of noise about attracting the best and the brightest to the teaching profession and, in the next breath, turn around telling them that they are going to be attacked right and left if each and every one of their students doesn’t perform brilliantly on some standardized test devised by someone in a ivory castle who has little or no knowledge of REAL WORLD applications of the subject let alone the nuances of pedagogy and learning.

    1. Does anyone else see the irony here? The LePage administration wants us to believe that the stereotypical welfare mom is fully to blame for her own lack of financial success. But when it comes to the stereotypical kid of that mom — who may or may not attend school regularly, who may or may not have substance abuse problems, who may or may not even live with his mom any more — well, if that kid isn’t a success in school, it is clearly the fault of the teacher.

  13. Unlike several posters here, I’m pro merit pay or having it tied to evaluations for a few reasons. First of all, as a parent of 2, I have very strong opinions about the quality and effectiveness of the teachers my kids had. Coming from a family with many teachers, I also have a strong opinion. Finally, I”m also involved in education in a non-teaching manner and see things from the inside. Having many friends who are teachers, I know some of their opinions. And those thoughts seem to coincide. Many of those teachers I consider GOOD teachers, are also the same teachers who do not oppose a merit system. In fact, one said to “bring it on”.
    Some of those very good teachers are frustrated by their colleagues who just skate by. I do agree to some extent that the nature of the students coming in needs to be taken into consideration, but it cannot be an excuse to not do better. That’s just a cop-out. There are ways to tie student willingness and ability to that growth model as well. Get a good statistician to look at all the data of students and I’m sure a decent rubric can be developed that would give an accurate and fair assessment of the teacher effectiveness. Put weights on student attendance, socio-economic levels, and special considerations such as learning disabilities and you can get a predicted growth level. And why not involve parent survey as well? The parents are the ultimate consumer. If you allowed to the parents to give feedback, I bet you would also see trends. Parents of wiling, able and attentive students to a tee can tell you who the good teachers and who the bad teachers are. But no one wants to listen to the parent. In fact, the parent is often shut out at school, even though it’s often a mantra at school that it’s the parents’ fault for whatever. As soon as parents try to get more involved, they are often labeled a nuisance.
    We’ve experienced some really good teachers, and a few really bad ones. I would love to see the pay for those good ones doubled, if you could get rid of the bad. For the life of me, I cannot figure out how some of them actually keep their job in teaching. Time and time again, they’ve proven that they should not be in the profession, yet they continue on. I blame the admin for that, because if any real and true evaluation and remediation was done, then these few would either be looking for another job, or the parent complaints would have stopped by now.

  14. You have read that they don’t evaluate in Finland and that the schools there are the best to be found.

    Those who would evaluate students think they must compare an education with the yearly profits derived from a business.

    Governments and schools cannot be run like a business. The three have three distinct and different goals.

    The humble Farmer

  15. Funny, Scandinavia countries, ones that have the best education system rarely monitor teachers. No standardized testing, teachers are giving the chance to teach how they see fit. There are a couple of reason, one they are paid pretty well and well respected. The fact is we pay teachers pretty bad coming out of school with a 4 year degree. We are not attracting the best and the brightest to the field. You want to fix it, but you are not doing anything to bring the best into the profession. Up teacher pay substaintioally, make it harder to become one and boom, you will get better teachers entering the profession. People can yell about it being harder to fire teachers blah, blah blah, its not like there are a pool of amazing teachers out there just waiting for jobs. The good teachers, or the one that will make great teachers already have jobs.

  16. Value Added Measures do not work. Don’t be fooled. This IS a way to get rid of teachers who might be more vocal, and who might be more costly to the system–it’s cheaper to replace an experienced teacher with a new teacher.

  17. “And every teacher and principal deserves clear expectations and a fair
    evaluation process that rewards effectiveness and supports teachers in
    constantly improving,” said LePage in a press release. “In private
    business, we call that professional development. Teachers deserve that
    as much as workers in private industry.”

    Hey Paul, we call it professional development in the public sector as well. Get a clue. We teachers constantly have to complete professional development goals. If we don’t, we lose our licenses. In addition, in my district if your professional development is not up to snuff, it shows up on your evaluation.

  18. God forbid that teacher evaluations depend on the student learning anything.
    Maybe the student will just not learn stuff to spite the teacher. What nonsense.

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