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Evaluations for the rest of the workforce

As Colorado school districts get ready to roll out new evaluation methods for principals and teachers next year, the Department of Education is starting to put the details on a system for evaluating nearly 5,000 other school professionals.

Evaluation illustration

That system needs to have some unique attributes, according to the State Council for Educator Effectiveness, which made recommendations to the State Board of Education last week.

The state’s landmark 2010 educator effectiveness law requires annual evaluations for “all licensed personnel.” The State Board of Education adopted rules for the principal and teacher evaluation system in November 2011, but those regulations didn’t cover school counselors, nurses, psychologists, social workers and various kinds of therapists.

The council, an appointed body that has developed the recommendations for implementing the evaluation system, undertook a separate study of how to rate what it calls “specialized service professionals” (SSPs).

Specialized service professionals

  • Audiologists (61)
  • Counselors (1,617)
  • Nurses (357)
  • Occupational therapists (383)
  • Orientation and mobility specialists (42)
  • Physical therapists (79)
  • Psychologists (738)
  • Social workers (461)
  • Speech and language pathologists (1,065)

Numbers in parenthesis show how many professionals are working in schools. 4,803 total.

While the council’s recommendations mirror the system for principals and teachers in significant ways, there are three important differences.

• The council recommends that outside professionals be periodically involved in the evaluation of SSPs. The theory here is that a typical school principal may not have the expertise to know if, for instance, an audiologist is administering hearing tests properly. The council’s report also notes that many specialized professionals work in multiple schools and even in multiple districts, meaning they work with more than one principal.

Professional evaluators should be used in the first three years of practice, when loss of non-probationary status is possible, or at least every three years, the council recommends.

• While the evaluation law requires 50 percent of principal and teacher evaluations be based on student academic growth, the council is recommending that standard not be applied to all specialized professionals, given their distance from the classroom. Rather, those staff should be evaluated on what the council calls “student outcomes.” As an example, for counselors, student outcomes might include reduction in school absentee rates and increased graduation rates. (See and expanded list of possible outcomes below.)

• Finally, the council warned that such a system won’t work without appropriate funding. “Recruiting and training appropriate professional experts will require resources and funding,” the council’s report says. “The council recommends that sufficient funding be appropriated to CDE to ensure the quality implementation of this recommendation. This funding should include short-term funding to establish the required infrastructure and longer-term funding for sustainability.”

Aime Baca-Oehlert, a counselor who serves on the council, was more succinct in her comments to the state board: “If it’s not funded, it’s not going to happen.”

The council’s recommendations for specialized professionals include the same four-step rating system as for principals and teachers – highly effective, effective, partially effective and ineffective. The proposal also follows the same format of using six quality standards to evaluate an educator’s “professional practices.”

The council also recommends that the state develop a model system that districts and boards of cooperative education services could use to evaluate specialized professionals. If districts chose to develop their own systems they would have to meet minimum state standards. (That same option exists with the overall evaluation system.)

The next step in the process is drafting of proposed regulations by Department of Education staff. Those will have to be approved by the state board. The council’s recommendations suggest pilot testing of evaluations in selected districts next year, followed by a statewide rollout in 2014-15. The first “real” year of the system would be 2015-16, when ratings of ineffective or partially effective could count against an educator’s non-probationary status.

The evaluation law says that educators can lose non-probationary status – “tenure” is the shorthand term – after two consecutive ratings of ineffective or partially effective.

What are student outcomes?

Here are examples of student outcomes that could be attributed to SSPs, depending on their duties.

Audiologists

  • Increased student access to auditory learning
  • Increased stakeholder implementation of accommodations
  • Increased usage of hearing assistance technology

Counselors

  • Reduction in school absentee rates
  • Increased graduation rates
  • Reduced incidents of bullying

Nurses

  • Reduced absenteeism due to health issues
  • Improved immunization compliance
  • Effective chronic disease management

Occupational Therapists

  • Student goals on the IEP related to independence in self-care skills met
  • Increased engagement and participation in targeted classroom activity

Orientation and mobility specialists

  • Improved student functional mobility
  • Improved spatial awareness
  • Improved attending behaviors and auditory abilities

Physical Therapists

  • Student goals on the individualized education plan (IEP) related to functional mobility in the educational environment met
  • Removal of barriers in the educational environment to increase student access

Psychologists

  • Improved mental health outcomes for treated students
  • Behavior goals met on IEPs
  • Improved school climate

Social Workers

  • Decrease in discipline referral rates
  • Number of parents attending parent groups and trainings
  • Increased grades for students in caseload

Speech and Language Pathologists

  • Student academic growth in reading and writing
  • Improved student participation in class

List taken from “Report & Recommendations for the Evaluation of Specialized Service Professionals” by the state council

Proposed definition of effective practices for SSPs

“Effective specialized service professionals are vital members of the education team. They are properly credentialed and have the knowledge and skills necessary to ensure that diverse student populations have equitable access to academic instruction and participation in school-related activities. Effective specialized service professionals develop and/or implement evidence-based services or specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of their students. They support growth and development to close achievement gaps and prepare students for postsecondary and workforce success. They have a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of the home, school and community and collaborate with all members of the education team to strengthen those connections. Through reflection, advocacy, and leadership, they enhance the outcomes and development of their students.”

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