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Effectiveness council gets some advice

Three superintendents and two education lobbyists had some clear words of caution Friday for the State Council for Educator Effectiveness, which is working to develop frameworks for new teacher and principal evaluation systems.

Evaluation illustration

“Give us general guidelines” on evaluation, said Aurora Superintendent John Barry, commenting on the recurring but unfinished council discussion about how detailed and prescriptive on school districts the state should be in setting up evaluation systems under the new educator effectiveness law. “Allow us the flexibility … don’t restrict us in our ability to be innovative.”

Among the issues the council has been chewing on are whether districts should be allowed to opt in or opt out of a state system, whether district evaluation systems would need to “meet or exceed” state requirements and what regulatory role the state should have over evaluation procedures.

Walt Cooper, superintendent of the Cheyenne Mountain schools in Colorado Springs, said, “The meet or exceed standard is very problematic, in my view,” suggesting instead that the issue should be framed so that local district systems “include” state requirements.

Jane Urschel, veteran lobbyist for the Colorado Association of School Boards, said, “The council’s scope of work is maybe more limited than what is being discussed here” and that the group needs to be careful not to “overprescribe” what school districts can do. “The intent [of the new law] is not one size fits all,” she said. “We encourage the council to solicit additional input.”

Similar comments were made by Jerry Wilson, superintendent of the Poudre schools in Fort Collins, and Bruce Caughey, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Executives.

The remarks were the first substantial formal comments to the council by representatives of education interest groups. The council receives public comment at every meeting, but members don’t respond to or question witnesses.

What’s ahead

The council is responsible for the first steps in the very long implementation process of Senate Bill 10-191, the new state law that requires annual evaluations of teachers and principals and basing at least half of those evaluations on student growth.

Today’s meeting was intended partly to give some direction to council staff ahead of a three-day retreat in mid-January at which the group hopes to start solidifying some of the recommendations it will have to make to the State Board of Education later next spring.

Under the requirements of the educator effectiveness law, the council is assigned to make recommendations to SBE on definitions of teacher and principal effectiveness, different levels of effectiveness, permitted variation in evaluations, testing and implementation of new evaluation systems, appeals processes, parent involvement and on costs of the new systems.

Effort has had fits and starts

The council’s work to date hasn’t been completely smooth. The panel originally was created by executive order and later formalized by the effectiveness law, which assigned the body additional duties. That slowed things down last spring.

State education officials originally had hoped the council would be supported by federal Race to the Top funds. Colorado, of course, lost out in that competition, so the council’s work was slowed by lack of funds to support staff and consultants. Part of a recent Gates Foundation Grant to the Colorado Legacy Foundation has filled that financial gap.

While the council has made some tentative broad decisions, like using North Carolina’s educator effectiveness standards as a model and starting point, decisions on detailed recommendations remain to be made.

The council has five more scheduled meetings. “We have a tremendous amount to get done in a very short period of time,” said Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, a consultant who recently took over moderation of the group’s meetings and organization of between-meetings work.

The council is being advised by a volunteer Technical Advisory Group, which reviews education research and prepares documents for the council, among other tasks. McREL, the Colorado-based education research lab, also is assisting in a detailed review of the North Carolina educator standards.

The state board has until next fall to adopt educator effectiveness regulations and also is allowed to make decisions on any issues on which the council doesn’t act. Those SBE regulations will be subject to legislative review in 2012.

If the whole process plays out as planned, the effectiveness law won’t be fully implemented until the 2014-14 school year, following a couple of years of piloting in a limited number of districts.

In addition to the requirement that at least half of educator evaluations be based on student growth, the other major element of the law changes the existing system of job security for non-probationary teachers. Those who fail to receive adequate evaluations can be returned to probation.

Get more information here on the law, the council and other Department of Education educator effectiveness efforts.

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