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Teacher evaluation rules approved

The State Board of Education approved regulations Wednesday that will govern evaluation of principals and teachers under the landmark 2010 law requiring annual reviews and that at least 50 percent of evaluations be based on student academic growth.

Senate Bill 10-191 sponsors (from left) Carole Murray, Christine Scanlan, Mike Johnston and Nancy Spence at Wednesday's meeting.
Senate Bill 10-191 sponsors (from left) Carole Murray, Christine Scanlan, Mike Johnston and Nancy Spence at Wednesday's meeting.

But the regulations will not have an immediate impact, given the law’s long implementation timeline, the fact that key parts of the rules remain to be filled in and that the document will be subject to special review by the 2012 legislature.

Still, adoption marked a key milestone in development of the new evaluation system, which began with passage of Senate Bill 10-191 after a tough legislative fight in the spring of 2010. Since then there’s been nearly a year of work by the State Council on Educator Effectiveness and months of drafting, comment hearings and redrafting by Department of Education staff.

Wednesday afternoon’s three-hour and 45-minute session was attended by the law’s four prime legislative sponsors, who stayed for most of the meeting and at times were consulted on language changes.

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver and the prime mover behind the law, told the board the rules “strike an appropriate balance” between statewide uniformity and local district flexibility.

Christine Scanlan, a Democratic representative from Summit County when the law as passed and now Gov. John Hickenlooper’s top lobbyist, said, “I think we will have a very credible system.” Republicans Sen. Nancy Spence of Centennial and Rep. Carole Murray of Castle Rock also praised the regulations.

All SBE votes on amendments, sections of the rules and the full set of amended rules were unanimous. (There were no roll calls, just assent on every motion.) Staff members and others in the hearing room broke out in applause when the board took its final vote just before 5:30 p.m.

The law won’t go fully into effect until 2014-15, when evaluations will begin to have an effect on teachers’ non-probationary status. Evaluations of principals and teachers under the new system are scheduled to start in 2013-14.

In the meantime, elements of principal and teacher evaluations are being pilot tested in selected districts around the state, and the lessons learned during those pilots are expected to guide future fleshing out and modification of the rules. The pilot studies run through July 2013.

The work that remains to be done

Here are key elements of the regulations that will be fleshed out later:

• The rules set four classifications for both principals and teachers – highly effective, effective, partially effective and ineffective. But the rules don’t contain specific definitions of those classifications; those won’t be written until after the pilot projects provide more information.

“We are punting the definition of that until after the pilot,” Deputy Commissioner Diana Sirko told the board.

• CDE also still needs to develop the documents and worksheets (called rubrics and matrices in education lingo) that actually will used to document evaluations.

• Although Senate Bill 10-191 requires that the new system apply to all licensed educators, the rules don’t yet contain any provisions for “other licensed personnel” such as media specialists, counselors and other non-classroom professionals. The State Council, an appointed advisory body that was assigned a key role in the process by SB 10-191, is still working on that issue.

• The rules don’t yet contain an appeals process for educators who lose non-probationary status because of ineffective ratings. The council is supposed to deliver a proposal on that issue to SBE by Feb. 1, 2012.

• And CDE still needs to develop a full model evaluation system that districts can use if they choose to do so.

The balance between state standardization and local district flexibility was a key debate during the months when the rules were being drafted. The department ended up proposing a “meets or exceeds” standard under which districts can create their own evaluation systems as long as they meet elements of the state system. Districts will have to verify their systems with the state, and CDE will be able to review district evaluation systems if it suspects there are problems.

The local flexibility issue seems to have been largely resolved, and the subject wasn’t part of the board’s discussion Wednesday.

The key elements of the rules adopted by the board Wednesday include detailed definitions of principal and teacher effectiveness, plus seven professional quality standards for principals and six standards for teachers. Each standard includes several “elements” that further define what the standard means.

The quality standards will account for 50 percent of an educator’s evaluation. The other half will be based on student growth, based on state test score growth and other “multiple measures” of student achievement. Those multiple measures are another key part of the new evaluation system remains to be fleshed out.

Much of the time Wednesday afternoon was taken up with a somewhat in-the-weeds discussion of how much all teachers should be held responsible for the reading and math skills of students. The language proposed by CDE staff on that issue was deemed to be too detailed and was trimmed back.

There also was a bit of confusion at the start of the discussion when board members were presented with a five-page letter from the state council that listed proposed changes in the regulations. Most of the council’s suggested changes were included in the final version of the rules.

Nina Lopez, council co-chair, explained to Education News Colorado that the letter came so late because the council didn’t see CDE’s final draft of the rules until early last week, met last Friday and finalized the letter on Monday.

What happens next

Evaluation illustration

Here’s where the rules go from here:

  • The attorney general’s office will review them to make sure they comply with SB 10-191. If there are problems the rules get kicked back to the board.
  • There’s a Jan. 15 deadline for the rules to go to the legislature, which has about a month to approve or veto individual parts.
  • Any legislative changes come back to the board, which will have until May 1 to send revised rules to lawmakers.
  • The effectiveness council will send suggested rules on the appeals process to the board by Feb. 1, and the board will have to send it proposed appeals regulations to the legislature by May 1.

The legislature usually doesn’t have such detailed review powers over a state agency’s rules, but Johnston included the process in SB 10-191 as part of the political compromise to get the bill passed.

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