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Voices: The rocky rollout of SB191 in Dougco

Douglas County high school teacher and union member Traci Mumm describes the rollout of SB191 in her district as “embarrassing” and “frustrating.”

The political rhetoric around education is circling the idea that teachers enjoy an easy life of automatic pay raises, long summer vacations and little accountability for what their students learn. Colorado Senate Bill 10-191 addressed these concerns by mandating that teachers be evaluated according to student performance and principal’s assessment. The day of teacher accountability is approaching and many are celebrating its arrival.

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, and other prime sponsors pitched Senate Bil 10-191 to the State Board of Education on April 14, 2010. <em>EdNews file photo</em>
Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, and other prime sponsors pitched Senate Bil 10-191 to the State Board of Education on April 14, 2010. EdNews file photo

In Douglas County, teacher accountability has arrived ahead of anything the state has produced. The new evaluation system is CITE 2.0 (CITE stands for Continuous Improvement of Teacher Effectiveness) and is meant to show the education world how innovative and forward thinking Douglas County can be. But, for those who believe that CITE is the answer to the “how does one measure and reward good teaching“ dilemma, CITE is at best a disappointing mess and, at worst, a weapon that may drive quality teachers from this district.

When teachers left for summer break we knew that we would be facing a new evaluation system in the fall. We also understood that our pay would be tied to this new evaluation. Imagine our apprehension when we began looking for information about this enormous change and found next to nothing. Our jobs, our evaluation, our schedule and our compensation were all set to transform, yet we left knowing nothing about what any of this would look like.

Our trepidation grew when we returned in August and discovered that we would be working in the dark because the district had yet to release or explain any of their evaluation documents. More than a month after school started Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen sent us an email explaining that the draft of the new CITE system was finished and that we would be seeing it soon. In the meantime, Fagen referred us to the state evaluation until the district’s draft was finished. Two weeks later, she sent an email stating that we could refer our many questions to her blog, which is 12 pages long and riddled with emoticons and exclamation marks. It is now the end of November and we have no more information than that with which we started. Any attempt at clarity simply creates more questions, more uncertainty and more frustration. For a district that advocates starting with the end in mind and “system performance,” the rollout of this new evaluation has been embarrassing and extremely frustrating.

SB 10-191 requires 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation to be based on student performance and the administration intends for teachers to measure a portion of this performance with standardized assessments created by the school district. My future pay depends on having these assessments completed and available for administration, but they are not done. When will they be done? Good question. Perhaps you can get an answer.

CITE measures teachers as “ineffective,” “partially effective,” ”effective” and “highly effective.” To be considered “highly effective,” we need to teach “world class outcomes.” If we are rated “highly effective,” we can earn bonuses by reaching “world class targets.” Neither targets nor outcomes are defined so it’s really difficult to know how to teach or achieve them. If we somehow decipher how to jump through these rhetorical hoops we may be eligible for “professional pathways.” What are these? No idea.

If I taught my class the way Douglas County School District has introduced this premature evaluation system I would certainly be considered “ineffective.” Imagine how frustrated my students would be if I told them that their grades depend on an evaluation I can’t explain nor have fully created. I could tell them that, to succeed, they need to understand terms that I can’t define and will take a test that does not exist. Furthermore, if they have questions, they can read my blog. Finally, if they are unhappy, tough, because there might be other schools that would be happy to welcome them.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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