MSMA: Legislature approves evaluation bill despite AG caution

Maine School Management Association

April 8, 2010

Legislature approves evaluation bill despite AG caution

The Legislature Wednesday approved a bill that allows student test results to be used in teacher and principal evaluations, but left in place an amendment pushed by the teachers’ union that prohibits local school districts from adopting their own evaluation systems if they include achievement data.

That amendment also could jeopardize the state’s ability to apply for Race to the Top funds and put at risk $60 million in federal stimulus money for schools, even though that was the reason for the bill in the first place.

The vote in the Senate was 22-13 and in the House 80-67. (Roll calls are attached.)

The amended bill, LD 1799, “An Act To Encourage the Use of Models in the Collection and Use of Student Achievement Data,” removes a 20-year-old restriction in state law that says student achievement data can’t be tied to teacher evaluations – a ban that would have made the state ineligible to even apply for a Race to the Top grant of up to $75 million.

The amendment written by the Maine Education Association and sponsored by Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Cumberland County, put restrictions on the use of that data, saying school districts can only use evaluations approved by a stakeholder’s group and then adopted by the Department of Education.

The amendment, in essence, takes away the right of school boards and superintendents to use evaluations that best meet the needs of their district.

And, while the whole point of passing LD 1799 was to make the state eligible to apply for a Race to the Top grant, the language the MEA successfully pushed could put that grant and other federal funds at risk.

According to an opinion issued by the state Attorney General Wednesday afternoon:

“The proposed amendment, S-515, prohibits the Department from adopting any model for teacher evaluations that includes student assessments that has not been approved by the stakeholder group. This prohibition is a potential legal barrier to linking student achievement data to teacher/principal assessment; moreover it leaves open the possibility that the stakeholder group will not approve any such model. In either case, the Department might be prohibited from adopting a model that includes student assessments. Local school units, in turn, are prohibited from using any model that has not been adopted by the Department.”

The opinion was written by Chief Deputy Attorney General Linda Pistner. A copy of her opinion is attached.

The bill now goes to Gov. John Baldacci for his signature.

Contact: Dale Douglass, executive director
Victoria Wallack, communications director
Telephone: 207-622-3473 or 1-800-660-8484