Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

City school board files appeal on ‘cut score’ change

The Baltimore city school board is continuing its fight against a finding that it illegally changed the evaluation standard for teachers without first negotiating with the teachers’ union.

The board has filed a circuit-court challenge to the administrative panel’s August decision.

At issue are so-called “cut scores,” which are used to evaluate teachers and impact whether they receive raises. Teachers fall in one of four categories — highly effective, effective, developing and ineffective — tied to a corresponding number of points; receiving a “highly effective” rating results in an automatic pay raise.

Prior to the 2013-2014 school year, the school board and teachers agreed that the cut score would be decided based on four weighted factors: classroom observation, professional responsibilities, student growth measure and school performance measure. The cut-off (or cut score) for the “highly effective” category was 80 or above.

But in April, the board announced it was raising that benchmark to 86 or above. Two months later, the factors that went into the cut score were revised to include only classroom observation and professional expectations, with classroom observation counting for 85 percent of the evaluation.

The Baltimore Teachers Union, which represents nearly 5,800 city teachers, argued the cut score played a “major role” in determining teachers’ salaries, for which bargaining is required.

The school board filed a request Aug. 4 with the state’s Public School Labor Relations Board on Aug. 4 to resolve the dispute.

“The adoption of the cut score at issue has resulted in a reduction in the number of teachers rated as highly effective or effective, which, in turn, has resulted in a reduction in the number of teachers who have received salary increases,” the union argued, according to the PSLRB opinion.

The school board countered the cut scores serve an “administrative function” that are not subject to negotiation.

The PSLRB, in an opinion filed Aug. 29, sided with the teachers in a 4-1 decision, with the majority finding evaluation criteria are to be “mutually agreed on” by both parties.

The board also rejected the school system’s argument that the cut scores were not part of the teacher evaluation process because of the increased emphasis on classroom observation.

“It is difficult to conceive of a judgment on teacher effectiveness, under the mandated evaluation system, being made without cut scores; thus the criteria as a standard of judgment, by definition, includes cut scores,” the PSLRB ruled.

The school board filed its petition for judicial review in Baltimore City Circuit Court on Sept. 29. The case is In the Matter of the Petition of The Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners, 24C14005616.

Edmund J. O’Meally, a lawyer for the school board, did not respond to a request for comment. O’Meally is a member of Pessin Katz Law P.A. in Towson.

Keith J. Zimmerman of Kahn, Smith & Collins P.A. in Baltimore, a lawyer for the teachers’ union, declined to comment on the case.

*This article was corrected Oct. 7 to show the school board filed a request with the state’s Public School Labor Relations Board, not the teachers’ union.