AUGUSTA — A bill requiring rigorous performance evaluations for teachers and principals was unanimously endorsed Wednesday by a legislative committee.

The Education and Cultural Affairs Committee had postponed the bill after more than three hours of discussion on Tuesday. Shortly after reconvening on Wednesday, committee members voted 12-0 to send it to the full Legislature with an “ought to pass” recommendation.

“I think this is probably one of the most important pieces of legislation that’s happened in some time, and will give us a great tool to begin working through that process to have great, strong evaluation systems,” said Susan Campbell, chairwoman of the Augusta Board of Education and president of the Maine School Boards Association.

The bill, L.D. 1858, would require school districts to enact evaluation systems for teachers and principals by 2015-16. The bill requires that all educators be evaluated regularly on things including student learning data. It also requires they get feedback to help them improve. They would be rated on a four-level scale of effectiveness.

After one “ineffective” rating, an administrator would help a teacher create a professional improvement plan. A second consecutive “ineffective” rating would be grounds for dismissal.

Supporters of the bill say it will help school districts hire, develop and retain the best teachers, and that teacher quality is the most important factor in a school affecting student achievement.

Maine Education Association President Chris Galgay wouldn’t comment on Wednesday, saying the teachers union is having internal conversations about the bill.

Union officials previously said that strong evaluations systems are crucial, but they opposed a provision of the bill that limits the union’s ability to challenge poor ratings or evaluations.

According to the bill, an educator can appeal or file a grievance only on the basis of violations of procedure or “bad faith” on the part of the evaluator, not the “professional judgment” in an evaluation.

Maine law does not grant teachers tenure, and they can be dismissed for poor performance.

If L.D. 1858 passes, a Maine Educator Effectiveness Council — including teachers, administrators, school board members, business people and an education professor — would create standards around which school districts would model their own evaluation systems.

The council would have to submit its report by Nov. 1. Rep. Richard Wagner, D-Lewiston, said that may not be enough time, and that resources to support the proposal may be thin.

“I’ve been involved in ratings and all this sort of stuff at the higher education level,” said Wagner, a retired Bates College professor. “If it’s going to be done, it’s really got to be done right. If you have the resources to do them, then God bless you, but if not, you’re going to have to find them.”

Campbell said developing and deploying new evaluations will require an investment of time and money. State policymakers can help by providing models for school districts to follow, she said.

“Every time something has to be redone at the local level, it’s always a challenge,” she said.

The Maine Department of Education would estimate the costs to local school districts and incorporate targeted funding into the formula for state aid to education. That does not mean, however, that the overall state subsidy to school districts would increase.

Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen said that Maine’s law is modeled after one passed in Colorado in 2010. Colorado’s State Council for Educator Effectiveness spent more than a year developing rules, which the general assembly passed and the governor signed last month.

The Colorado council’s report estimates that enacting new evaluations would incur a one-time cost of $53 per student. After that, there would be annual costs of $531 per effective teacher, $406 per effective principal and $3,873 per ineffective teacher.

The Colorado law says that teachers receiving two consecutive “ineffective” ratings will lose tenure, but it also provides for an appeals process, now in development by the state board of education.

The bill is the second education reform proposal from Gov. Paul LePage to be approved by the education committee. A bill to give students more access to career and technical education passed the committee 10-1 earlier this week.

The committee will hold work sessions on two school choice bills today. One would create open enrollment in Maine, and the other would allow religious schools to receive public funding.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]


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