Thursday, December 5, 2013
AUGUSTA — Teachers in Regional School Unit 12 received performance pay averaging $2,707 over the summer as part of a new program to reward good teachers and identify those who struggle.
“What I’ve told the staff is this is a grand experiment,” said Superintendent Howard Tuttle. “It’s messy, it’s not perfect, and we’ll get better at it. As far as performance pay, I think it does have the potential to really help districts to meet their goals and to improve student achievement.”
RSU 12, which covers Alna, Wiscasset, Westport Island, Palermo, Somerville, Whitefield, Windsor and Chelsea, is leading the way in the development of a system that will recognize and foster good teaching and its contribution to student achievement. RSU 12 piloted its teacher evaluation and professional growth system last year. Sixty-eight percent of the district’s teachers were rated “distinguished,” 25 percent as “effective,” 5 percent as “developing” and 2 percent as “ineffective.”
Teachers received performance pay, which was paid with money from a federal grant, based on their evaluation scores, including student growth on various types of assessments. The district distributed $378,995 in performance pay, with the average award being $2,707.
A law passed in 2012 requires school districts to develop evaluations for teachers and principals this year so they can pilot them next year. When the evaluations are fully implemented in 2015-16, they will produce ratings that affect educators’ assignments, compensation and dismissal.
School districts in the Augusta area are at widely different stages of the development process. While RSU 12 has already launched a program, others, such as Hallowell-based RSU 2, have yet to form the committees that will design the evaluations.
When it comes to the most contentious part of the evaluations, however, all of the districts are aiming at a target that doesn’t yet exist.
“The barrier right now is student achievement and the value of student achievement in the teacher evaluation process,” said Donna Madore, Augusta Public Schools’ assistant superintendent.
Madore said a committee in Augusta met a handful of times last school year, but their work ground to a halt in June after the Legislature failed to approve the guidelines that the locally developed evaluation systems must meet.
Democrats in the Legislature took issue with the Department of Education’s recommendation that at least 25 percent of a teacher’s rating be based on student growth data from standardized tests and other sources.
A bill that would have weighted student growth at 20 percent — no more or less — did not receive the two-thirds approval it needed as an emergency measure.
The Department of Education will have to restart the rule-making process and submit a new proposal to the Legislature in January, but in the meantime, the timeline laid out for school districts in the 2012 law is still in effect.
Several other elements of the evaluation systems are either in the 2012 law or were non-controversial in the Department of Education’s proposed rules and thus are good candidates for school districts to start working on now.
That includes adopting a set of professional teaching standards, devising a schedule for observations and evaluations, and setting consequences for each rating on the effectiveness scale, including supports for educators in need of improvement.
“I think we can do a lot of work around the teacher evaluation process and just hold off on (student growth) until that gets clarified some more,” Madore said. “We can work on the language and the meat of the evaluation process in the meantime.”
Madore said she thinks Augusta can still adhere to the required timeline, especially because they’ll be able to learn from school districts that are already piloting their own evaluation systems, thanks to the help of the federal Teacher Incentive Fund grant.
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