AUGUSTA — State officials are looking for public input as they craft new systems of accountability for schools and educators.

The Maine Department of Education will file an application on Feb. 21 to be released from some provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind law, including a requirement that all students be proficient by 2013-14 — a standard many people say is unreasonable and impossible to meet.

To obtain a waiver, states must create new ways to evaluate schools and teachers.

“We’ll still need to test all schools every year,” Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen said on a conference call Monday. “We will need to look at how they’re doing; we will need to identify schools that are underperforming, and we’ll need to determine what we’re going to do about it.”

One criticism of No Child Left Behind is that schools have been measured on the basis of standardized test scores alone, Bowen said. Now Maine has the opportunity to include other indicators of effectiveness.

The department plans to gather input on what educators, parents and other stakeholders value in their schools through public forums in Bangor and Portland, an online forum and an online survey.

“I’d like to see us get close to a thousand responses,” said David Connerty-Marin, spokesman for the education department. “We’re looking for everybody. Teachers, of course, educators, parents, students, school board members.”

The survey asks respondents to rank several potential tools for measuring a school’s success, including rates of attendance, graduation or dropouts; parent, student or teacher surveys; parent engagement; and staff turnover rates.

Another major component for Maine’s application will be developing a set of standards for teacher and principal evaluations. The federal guidelines require that evaluations incorporate standardized test results.

Bowen said evaluations probably will include other measures of effectiveness and won’t be implemented fully until 2014-15, around the same time Maine transitions to a new statewide test now being developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

The state also must determine how to ensure that districts actually do adopt new evaluations. Withholding funding is essentially the only tool they have, Bowen said.

“You don’t want to do that if you can possibly avoid it,” he said.

Districts in Maine Schools for Excellence — an initiative funded by a federal Teacher Incentive Fund grant — already are working on new evaluations that incorporate student performance data.

Anson-based Regional School Unit 74 is one of those districts, and Superintendent Ken Coville said he’s glad the state will set standards rather than imposing a specific evaluation system.

“If they set that model in place and allow the local involvement in the design, it will significantly enhance local buy-in and the effectiveness of the resulting evaluations,” he said.

Maine Education Association Executive Director Rob Walker said the National Education Association and the state union support using student achievement in evaluations as long as test scores aren’t the only measure incorporated.

Teachers don’t have total control over a student’s test scores, Walker said.

“Our teachers are working very hard, trying to deal with every student who walks through the door,” he said. “We want to make sure that it doesn’t hold the teacher accountable for all the sins that are taking place in the world.”

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

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