The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) is leading and supporting the implementation of a Teacher and Principal Evaluation (TPE) system in all school districts in the state. A new report titled “Stay the Course: Teacher and Principal Evaluation in Maryland” examines the progress Maryland has made during four years of TPE implementation, 2013 to 2016.
Overall four-year trends
TPE implementation shows strong progress over four years
Based on four years of data, educators’ perceptions of TPE are improving as they gain experience implementing all components of the evaluation system. This trend has held true over all four years of the study on TPE.
- The increases in positive perceptions of principals and teachers on TPE implementation are significant.
- There is constant year-to-year growth in educators’ positive perceptions of TPE on all measures tracked during the four years of implementation.
- Principals and teachers indicate that TPE has clear expectations, leads to improved instructional decisions, and is better supported with each year of implementation.
- Principals and teachers also emphasize that the instructional focus of TPE is making a significant difference in schools.
State support for TPE implementation is pivotal
MSDE is taking a building block strategy to developing educators’ understanding of and ability to implement TPE. The impact of MSDE’s strategy is reflected in constant year-to-year improvements in educators’ perceptions during the four years of TPE implementation.
Salient elements of MSDE’s sophisticated implementation effort are to:
- Create a statewide model for TPE, while communicating a vision that TPE should support continuous improvement of instruction.
- Convene and help sponsor extensive statewide and regional training sessions for teams from all 24 districts, other key district constituencies, and more than 85% of Maryland’s institutions of higher education.
- Coalesce the state’s eight major educational entities through a Memorandum of Understanding2 (MOU) to garner widespread support for quality implementation of Student Learning Objectives (SLOs). The MOU received national attention as an innovative example of educator engagement.
- Effect a collaboration of MSDE and the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) to support district and school leaders.
- Train multiple cohorts of promising principals, with participants from every district.
- Engage external partners to study educator perceptions about TPE, and actively use findings to inform TPE strategies in response to educator opinions.
School and district leadership is critical to TPE implementation
Districts have discretion to implement TPE to fit their local context. Districts vary, in the amount and types of professional development and support they provide to principals, teachers, and central administrators; in the level of involvement of teachers; and in their focus on implementing TPE to improve instruction rather than to comply with state requirements. There are marked differences in the approaches districts take to support TPE implementation.
- The districts that are making real progress in the consistency of quality implementation are doing so through concerted efforts to build principal and teacher capacity and to align TPE with the instructional framework and priorities of the district. These include districts that are advanced in their implementation of TPE as well as districts that are making progress after initial slow starts.
- There is a small subset of districts that have lower levels of educator agreement on the quality and impact of TPE implementation. These districts tend not to take advantage of state sponsored trainings, or they fail to take what is learned at those trainings and apply it in the district. Some districts take shortcuts in an effort to make the process more manageable, which often results in undercutting the power of TPE to improve instruction.
Principals and teachers still need support
Principals and teachers are developing a more nuanced understanding of what is required to implement TPE at a high level of effectiveness. They are learning from their experience.
- Principals and teachers agree that school and district support for the implementation of TPE is helpful.
- Principals and teachers want more support in all areas of TPE to increase their instructional and managerial effectiveness.
- Most districts are increasingly aware that the needs for greater capacity have to be addressed.
Quality, consistency, and manageability
Quality matters when implementing SLOs and teacher observations. The quality of the capacity building, the quality of dialogue related to meeting student academic needs, and the quality of the planning and delivery of instruction all matter. When SLOs and observations are implemented with fidelity in Maryland’s districts, and backed by the full support of district leaders, there is increased focus and reflection on instruction and student progress.
Maryland districts with strong implementation:
- Develop their SLO process with the input of teachers in the district, and provide ongoing professional development that helps teachers use SLOs to improve their classroom practice.
- Have a pre-observation conference, the observation of the teacher in the classroom, and a postobservation conference using the same evaluator for all three tasks.
- Engage teachers in dialogue with their evaluator about instructional practice.
- Use results to make continuous improvements in instruction.
Consistency is a cornerstone of effective TPE implementation
Achieving consistency of implementation at a high level of quality is an ongoing challenge within and across districts and schools. It is a key issue that affects the reach and credibility of the evaluation system.
Districts that are building a consistent, quality implementation across schools are doing so through strategic efforts. Their leaders make a concerted effort to:
- Build a consistency of understanding among educators at central and school site levels so that the district has a shared view of TPE implementation.
- Use rubrics to provide both a standard and a basis for supporting the quality of SLOs and the quality of observations.
- Engage in formal training and team sessions to develop consistent approaches and inter-rater reliability for SLOs and classroom observations.
Districts need thoughtful management of the evaluation system
The leaders who are effective in implementing TPE make it a district-wide priority to thoughtfully support and manage the evaluation system. Key requirements for making TPE manageable are to:
- Set clear expectations for TPE to improve instruction.
- Train principals and teachers on high quality implementation strategies.
- Create a meaningful principal evaluation system to better understand and address the needs of principals.
- Create technology platforms and information management systems that support TPE implementation and enable districts to identify recurring challenges across multiple classrooms or schools.
Transition to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)
In the transition to ESSA, Maryland’s educators want to stay the course
District and school leaders are characteristically making the same statement—they want the evaluation system to continue to focus on instructional improvement. Many districts have been working to change their practices and cultures. There are a number of other districts that are now moving in these directions. On a recurrent basis, many leaders and practitioners are underscoring two key points—stay the course in the focus and support of TPE, while allowing more flexibility in the weighting of the components.
Issues and recommendations
The recommendations focus on strengthening leadership and further improving implementation at central and school site levels within Maryland’s districts.
Issue One: Statewide implementation of change
- Base the ESSA evaluation strategy on TPE’s progress.
- Renew the eight organization alliance in support of evaluation and instructional improvement.
- Use the learnings from TPE implementation to inform new statewide initiatives.
Maryland is a leader in implementing new educator evaluation systems. Maryland’s success to-date is based on substance and process. It should shape future TPE implementation under ESSA and inform other statewide reform initiatives.
Issue Two: District support capacity
- Provide advanced training to school site and district level practitioners.
- Focus on instructional improvement to increase accountability.
- Emphasize teacher voice and constituency building.
- Engage the local boards of education.
- Conduct a thoughtful reset in select districts.
Nurturing a new direction for instructional improvement and evaluation requires leaders who can change practices, mindsets, and the culture of central offices and schools. Maryland’s progress to-date provides the foundation for the steps which need to be taken to deepen the impact and reach of TPE.
Issue Three: Principal leadership
- Increase the capacity of principals to guide and oversee implementation.
- Make principal evaluation a greater priority in districts.
The credibility and usefulness of a new principal evaluation system lies in whether it recognizes and provides the vehicle for improving performance. Principals of all performance levels need an evaluation system that produces these outcomes.
Maryland is making significant progress in implementing the new teacher and principal evaluation systems, as reflected in survey and interview data over a four-year period. Moving forward, district- and school-based educators indicate that Maryland should stay the course in the focus and support of TPE, while allowing more flexibility in the weighting of the components. This means continuing to link TPE to instructional improvement and continuing to strengthen the quality, consistency, and manageability of implementation.