Some students in Prince George's County will be rating their teachers this year as part of a Maryland pilot program spreading to all school districts.

The program, which affects hundreds of teachers in 38 county schools across a range of subjects and grade levels, is meant to help the state figure out better methods to evaluate the growth of its teachers. Under the state pilot, each school system is allowed some customization, and Prince George's decided to experiment with student surveys.

"In the state of Maryland, there is no universal evaluation model," said Lewis Robinson, executive director of the Prince George's County Educators' Association. "This added other components that we weren't really looking at."

Some education researchers are intrigued by the idea of students evaluating their teachers, and early studies have shown some degree of success.

"Students are more insightful than one might think," said Susan Headden, a senior writer/editor for Education Sector. She pointed to a study done by the Measures of Effective Teaching Project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which found that student surveys improved predictions of teacher performance when combined with standard teacher evaluations and student achievement statistics.

The pilot was started in the county, with just six other districts, last year. Next year, the program will leave the pilot phase and be implemented statewide.

DC Public Schools has revamped its teacher evaluation system through Impact, a controversial tool emphasizing standardized test progress that was implemented in 2009 by then-Chancellor Michelle Rhee. About 400 D.C. teachers have been fired for poor performance since then.

Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education, said the state's program is to look at different evaluation methods to see what works and what doesn't. "Our ultimate goal is to improve educator effectiveness," he said. "It's not a 'gotcha' system."

Data from Prince George's approach may have the chance to shape that system. Once evaluation results come in, they will be sent to the county school board before being assessed by a joint committee that includes various department heads as well as representatives from the teachers' union, administrators' union and central office. That assessment then will be sent up to the state level.

"What we're trying to figure out is, what did we learn from these components?" Robinson said. "Are these the right measures?"