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Johnston: SB191 delay not needed

Sen. Mike Johnston, author of Colorado’s landmark educator evaluation law, says “It’s premature to change any timelines now” in rolling out of the new system for rating principals and teachers.

Johnston met Friday with the State Council for Educator Effectiveness, the appointed body responsible for making recommendations about the design of the system to the State Board of Education and the Colorado Department of Education.

As the council has continued its work, some members have become worried about whether a sustainable system can be put in place under the timelines set in Senate Bill 10-191.

“Our feeling is the only thing worse than change that’s not fast enough is change that’s so fast it can’t incrementally build on itself, and it craters,” Matt Smith, an aerospace executive who chairs the council, told Johnston. “We want to go fast … but not so fast that the quality of the product and the sustainability of the outcome is compromised.”

SB 10-191 timeline

  • 2011-12 – Elements of system piloted for principals
  • 2012-13 – Pilot testing for teachers and principals
  • 2013-14 – All districts to use the state system or an approved local system; evaluation results won’t affect tenure status
  • 2014-15 – Ratings of partially effective or ineffective will begin to affect tenure status
  • 2016-17 – First year a teacher could lose tenure (“non-probationary status”)

Key provisions of the law

  • Annual evaluations of principals and teachers
  • 50% of evaluations based on student academic growth
  • Teachers lose tenure if rated less than effective for 2 consecutive years
  • Loss of tenure does not mean automatic loss of job
  • Assignment to a school requires mutual teacher-principal consent

Teacher ratings

  • Highly effective
  • Effective
  • Partially effective
  • Ineffective

Concern about the timetable have been circulating in some education quarters and bubbled to the surface at a council meeting in late September. Johnston was asked to meet with the group to air out the issue.

Elements of the system currently are being tested in selected districts, but all districts are supposed to roll out the state system – or an approved local equivalent – starting in the fall of 2013. Evaluations of less than effective in 2013-14 won’t count against a teacher’s non-probationary status, commonly called tenure.

Johnston said he believes the current timetable is viable because of the two pilot-test years and because evaluations in 2013-14 won’t start the tenure-loss clock for ineffective teachers. He said next year is “in essence, a third pilot year.”

He also said there will be plenty of opportunities to fine-tune the system along the way: “The new evaluation system will have challenges, and it will have weaknesses. … No one believes that version 1.0 is going to be final. … The only way to start is by starting.”

Johnston was asked what happens if the system clearly isn’t ready to go next June, when the second year of pilot testing ends.

“We could find a way to turn the ship,” Johnston said, saying the State Board could be asked to suspend the regulations that drive the system, perhaps buttressed by an executive order from the governor. Then the 2014 legislature could decide what to do, he said. Johnston told EdNews Colorado later he doesn’t see the need for tinkering with SB 10-191 during the upcoming 2013 legislative session.

“That allays some of our concerns,” said council member Joanne Baxter, a former Moffat County school board member.

Baxter had said earlier that she’s particularly concerned about implementing the half of the evaluation that’s based on academic growth of students. Growth will be measured not only by performance on TCAP tests but also on district, classroom and other assessments that will vary.

“It’s the growth standard that’s of great concern … the timeline doesn’t allow us the time to implement that,” Moffat said.

“Clearly we knew that the growth standard was going to be the hard part,” Johnston said but again expressed confidence that the pieces would fall in place under the current timetable.

Impact of new tests

Johnston also was asked about the implications of Colorado changing testing programs in the middle of implementing the evaluation system. The current TCAP reading, writing and math tests are scheduled to be replaced by national tests being developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, starting in the spring of 2015.

He said he believes the Colorado Growth Model, the data system used by the state to calculate student academic growth based on multiple years of TCAP scores, can accommodate the switch.

Of more concern to legislators and the public, Johnston said, will be the inevitable drop in percentages of proficient students after the new test is launched. “There’s always going to be a year in which that happens,” he said.

What’s next

The council currently is developing recommendations for how to evaluate what are called “other licensed personnel” such as counselors, school nurses, school psychologists, social workers and various kinds of therapists. The recommendations are due in January to the State Board of Education, which decide what regulations to issue on the evaluation of those professionals.

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