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Seeking state-local balance on evaluations

A central issue in Colorado’s year-old educator effectiveness law – the amount of flexibility school districts should have in evaluating teachers – was at the forefront Wednesday as the State Board of Education discussed rules for implementing the law.

The board got its first formal look at the 30 pages of draft regulations for implementation of Senate Bill 10-191, the educator effectiveness law that requires annual evaluations of principals and teachers, basing 50 percent of evaluations on student growth and removing teachers from non-probationary status if they receive two ineffective evaluations.

“This is an exciting day, an historic day,” noted Deputy Commissioner Diana Sirko.

A key issue in the draft regulations is whether districts should opt in or opt out of the model system to be developed by the state. The draft rules were prepared by Department of Education staff and are based on the recommendations of the State Council for Educator Effectiveness.

Evaluation illustration

CDE is recommending that each district “shall implement the state model system” unless a district has developed its own system that meets requirements set by the department.

Sirko said a district “can use their own system; they just need to clearly demonstrate how it aligns” with state requirements.

“I think you’ve arrived at a very appropriate compromise,” said board member Elaine Gantz Berman, D-1st District.

But Michelle Murphy, a lawyer who works for the Colorado Association of School Boards, told the board that requiring an opt-out evaluation system “is an issue of real concern for CASB.”

She argued that state law assigns different roles to CDE and to districts, with the state responsible for creating an overall framework for educator evaluations and districts allowed to design evaluation systems that meet their individual needs.

“There’s a critical difference between guidance … and technical requirements” issued by the state, Murphy said. She added that CASB feels an opt-out model system “clearly seems to exceed the authority granted by the legislature. … We’re not a one-size-fits all state.

“The local districts, the local communities need to have the right to develop their own systems.”

Berman said she didn’t quite see the problem Murphy was raising, saying districts are “asking, they’re begging for a model they can adopt.”

District flexibility has been an issue since the legislature was debating the effectiveness bill during the 2010 session. While school districts have a substantial measure of local control under the state constitution, one goal of the effectiveness law is to create a system of evaluations that would measure teacher effectiveness in comparable ways district to district. The hope is that a district would be assured a teacher was truly “highly effective” or “effective” when hiring that person from another district.

CASB has supported the effectiveness law since it was being debated in the legislature. But, as the association did raise concerns about local flexibility during the deliberations of the effectiveness council over the last year.

The proposed regulations cover several broad areas: definitions of effectiveness, quality standards and performance ratings for principals and for teachers, duties of local districts, CDE duties and the role of students and parents in evaluation. The regulations eventually will contain rules for evaluation of other licensed professionals (counselors, librarians, etc.), but language hasn’t yet been drafted on that subject.

In addition to the local control question, some other key issues facing the board include exactly how to define the first teacher quality standard, which requires teachers demonstrate knowledge of the content they teach; the specific definition of student growth and how districts will be permitted to measure it, and how CDE will monitor districts’ compliance with the law.

The proposed rules contain the four levels of principal and teacher effectiveness recommended by the council: Ineffective, partially effective, effective and highly effective.

Paula Noonan, a Jefferson County board member who testified Wednesday, suggested that the state board might want to consider at least five levels, to make the system easier to use for districts that want to tie evaluation to compensation. She said that’s Jeffco’s intention.

Here’s a look at some other provisions in the rules:

  • Probationary teachers would receive at least two observations and one written evaluation a year.
  • Written evaluations would have to be presented to employees no later than two weeks before the end of the school year.
  • Every principal would have a professional performance plan.
  • Districts would be required to set up Advisory Personnel Performance Evaluation Councils made up of administrators, teachers and citizens. District and school accountability committees would also have advisory roles in the new system.
  • Evaluators would have to have training, and teachers could serve as evaluators.
  • Districts would be “encouraged” to involve parents in their evaluation systems and “encouraged … when appropriate” to use student survey data as part of the “multiple measures” of effectiveness that will be used to evaluate teachers.

Charter schools, for the most part, would be exempt from the law, which applies to licensed teachers. Charters don’t have to hire licensed teachers, but Sirko said schools probably will have to detail in their charters how they are meeting the intent of the effectiveness law.

Some major elements of the new evaluation structure remain to be fleshed out, including detailed evaluation scoring systems, an appeals process for teachers who receive “ineffective” ratings and the system for measuring student growth in subjects that aren’t included in the CSAP tests.

Some of those things will be fleshed out based on what happens during a pilot period, when evaluation system trial runs will be held in about half a dozen districts. That process starts this fall and runs through July 2013.

The state board is required to issue final regulations this autumn, and they will be reviewed by the legislature early in 2012.

DPS innovation plans approved

The state board unanimously approved innovation status for three Denver schools, including High Tech Early College, Collegiate Prep Academy and the Denver Center for 21st Century Learning at Wyman. The first two schools are part of the district’s reorganization effort in Far Northeast Denver.

The three innovation applications were approved by DPS board May 19 on split votes.

The three schools approved Wednesday, as well as three others approved earlier this spring, are controversial because of the issue of faculty involvement in innovation applications. The state innovation law requires majority faculty sign-off on an innovation application. But, because these schools are new and don’t have existing faculties, there have been no votes. Instead, teachers applying for jobs at the schools have been informed of the innovation plans and told accepting them is a requirement for being hired.

The Denver Classroom Teachers’ Association has said it plans to file a lawsuit challenging those innovation designations.

Among other things, innovation status gives schools freedom from various personnel rules and procedures, greater control over budgets and freedom to choose curriculums.

Hope Online wins two appeals

The state board voted 4-3 to grant two appeals by the Hope Online charter system. Hope, which is supervised by the Douglas County schools, sought to force the Eaton and Harrison schools districts to sign memoranda of understanding with it.Hope operates brick-and-mortar “learning centers” as part of its online program, but state law requires school districts where learning centers are located to have the MOUs with online schools. Eaton and Harrison had declined to sign understandings with Hope.

The board votes require the two districts to negotiate such memos with Hope.

The vote split on partisan lines, with Republicans Bob Schaffer, 4th District; Marcia Neal, 3rd District; Debora Scheffel, 6th District, and Paul Lundeen, 5th District, voting for Hope. Democrats Berman, Jane Goff, 7th District, and Angelika Schroeder, 2nd District, voted no.

Berman said she voted no because of concerns about the academic quality of Hope. “I’m not in favor of poor quality online programs.”

Associate Commissioner Rich Wenning acknowledged that “we have a challenge” with the student growth scores of all online programs in the state and that “Hope is probably in the middle of the pack.”

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