AUGUSTA — A split among policymakers over the terms of educator evaluations could sink Maine’s request for a waiver from federal education regulations, Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen is warning.

Bowen said in an email Friday he expects Gov. Paul LePage to veto regulations for the evaluations, which were reported out of the education committee on a nearly party-line vote this week. A veto would delay work until the Legislature can take them up again next year.

The timeline for Maine’s application for a waiver from some provisions of No Child Left Behind requires that a framework for evaluations be approved by the end of this school year, so that school districts could develop their own evaluation systems starting in the fall and fully implement them by 2015-16.

“This not only means the (Maine Department of Education) can’t approve models put forward by districts as the law requires, it also puts us out of compliance with the provisions of the NCLB waiver, so the waiver may be lost as well, though we’ll check with the feds on this,” Bowen wrote in an email to members of the Maine Educator Effectiveness Council, a state task force that made recommendations for teacher and principal evaluations.

Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia have been approved to set up their own school accountability and improvement systems, releasing them from annual improvement targets in No Child Left Behind that Obama Administration officials have said would be impossible for most schools to meet.

Maine was among seven states to submit waiver requests in a third round of applications in September. At the time, Bowen said he expected approval by early November, but it is still pending. Alaska, Hawaii and West Virginia, which applied at the same time as Maine, received approval this week.

The U.S. Education Department has given conditional approval to some states missing key provisions, including educator evaluation guidelines, but it has also denied applications after legislatures rejected evaluation plans.

The U.S. Education Department did not offer an on the record comment on Maine’s situation.

Anne Hyslop, an education policy analyst for the New America Foundation think tank, said federal officials may be willing to negotiate an agreement with Maine, but failure to reach an agreement on an evaluation framework would be a setback.

“Not passing the guidelines now doesn’t mean that the state won’t get a waiver at some point, but I think it will make it more difficult to get it, and to get it quickly,” Hyslop said.

This is an important year for No Child Left Behind because the law requires 100 percent of students to be proficient in state standards by the 2013-14 school year. There are consequences for schools that miss proficiency targets for multiple years.

Maine is asking for the 100 percent target to be waived and replaced with more realistic targets over the next six years. Schools would have their own annual goals based on where they start out.

One of three principles that federal officials say the new accountability systems must address is “supporting effective instruction and leadership,” which includes teacher and principal evaluations with data on student growth as a significant factor.

Last year, the Legislature passed a law requiring all school districts to implement such evaluation systems by 2015-16. It was approved with large majorities in both the House and Senate.

The law set up the Maine Educator Effectiveness Council, which studied other states’ evaluations and made recommendations to the Department of Education. The department then wrote regulations for the evaluation systems that school districts would be required to develop and implement locally.

One part of the department’s proposal required student growth measures, which include but may not be limited to, standardized test results, to count for at least 25 percent of an effectiveness rating.

The regulations are subject to approval by the Legislature, and when they came before the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee this week, the Maine Education Association, Maine Principals Association and Maine School Management Association said the 25 percent floor was too high.

Seven of the eight Democrats on the committee approved a version of the rules on Thursday that set the student growth factor at 20 percent, with no more than 10 percent based on standardized testing.

The other Democrat, Rep. Brian Hubbell of Bar Harbor, voted for a minority report with no cap on student growth measures, intending to maximize local control.

The five Republicans were in favor of the department’s proposed rule.

In his email to the effectiveness council, Bowen said Thursday was his most disappointing day as education commissioner.

“The divided report virtually guarantees a veto by the governor,” he wrote.

LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.

If evaluation rules are not approved, the Department of Education will continue to work on evaluation models, but anything school districts develop will not be subject to state approval.

The U.S. Education Department has granted other states’ waivers that require later review and approval of evaluation systems. Kansas, Oregon and Washington received approval last year, but are required to submit evaluation guidelines by the end of this school year.

In other states, not having guidelines in place created problems, Hyslop said.

California’s application did not even include an evaluation system including student growth, and it was rejected. California did not reapply.

Iowa’s was rejected as well when the state’s legislature did not pass a law that would allow the Iowa Department of Education to develop guidelines. The state is still working with federal officials to gain a waiver.

Illinois’ application has been pending the longest. The state applied in February 2012, but its evaluations law calls for full implementation in 2016-17, past the federal government’s deadline.

Hyslop said the parts of Maine’s application dealing with rigorous curriculum standards and assessments are strong, so the teacher evaluation component is probably the cause of the delay in approval.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645
[email protected]

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.