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Bill proposes delay in using student growth for evaluations

Sen. Mike Johnston is introducing a bill that would allow districts to not use student growth data when evaluating principals and teachers during the 2014-15 school year.

The proposal would be a significant – if temporary – change in the system created by Senate Bill 10-191, the educator evaluation law that the Denver Democrat successfully steered through the legislature four years ago.

The SB 10-191 system requires that principals and teachers be evaluated every year, half based on “professional practice” and half based on student academic growth as shown by scores on both state tests and a variety of local tests.

The law also requires that teachers rated as ineffective or partially effective for two consecutive years lose non-probationary status.

District systems that conform to the law debuted statewide this school year. But it’s a “practice” year in the sense that low evaluations don’t start the clock for teachers.

Under current law, the system is set to go into full effect in the 2014-15 school year.

Johnston’s bill, expected to be introduced shortly, would give districts the option of using or not using academic growth next year. So districts could choose to make growth count for half of evaluations, or they could base evaluations solely on professional practice. Districts also could choose to use growth data for any percentage below 50 percent. Districts would be required to gather growth data even if they didn’t use it in evaluations.

Teachers’ professional practice is rated by evaluators (usually principals) based on six quality standards (such as content knowledge and classroom environment), each of which has multiple detailed elements. It’s a common misconception that the student growth portion of teacher evaluations is based solely on results of statewide tests. That’s not the case, given that most teachers teach subjects not covered by statewide exams. So student growth is measured by a variety of assessments, which can vary by district.

Under Johnston’s new bill, teachers who receive ineffective or partially effective evaluations would be docked for one year toward loss of non-probationary status, as is currently scheduled.

Under the bill, the original SB 10-191 system would go back into effect in 2015-16, with teachers and principals based half on professional practice and half on student growth.

Johnston told Chalkbeat Colorado that a key reason for the proposed change is the coming switch in state tests from the current TCAP system to the new CMAS system, which will include multi-state PARCC tests based on the Common Core Standards in language arts and math.

Those tests will first be given in the spring of 2015, but results won’t be analyzed and available until at least the autumn of that year. That makes it difficult to use those results for evaluations of teachers in the 2014-15 school year.

The change in tests also will create a gap in growth data, which is built from student test results across multiple years.

Johnston also said the system just needs more work in order to effective and fair for teachers.

In an email sent to his Senate mailing list, Johnston wrote, “In every district – no matter the size, the resources, the geography, or the demographics – I have heard incredible stories about the effort our educators have put into implementing this legislation. … With meaningful evaluations has come meaningful development, and educators have consistently praised their administrative teams for sparking some of the best professional conversations of their careers.

“At the same time, I have heard deep anxiety about the confluence of new standards, new assessments, and new educator evaluations, all of which come online in the next school year. While there has been growing support for the quality standards linked to the new evaluations, there has also been legitimate worry about the implementation of student growth measures in the midst of a transition to a new state assessment.

“I share these concerns. And after long, thoughtful conversations with hundreds of practitioners across the state and the Department of Education, I believe we must give educators the time and space they need to succeed.”

Johnston has the support of the Colorado Education Association for the bill and has bipartisan sponsorship, including Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, who was a cosponsor of SB 10-191. CEA strenuously opposed that bill but has been actively involved in helping build the new evaluation system.

The data gap also affects that state accountability and rating system for districts and schools. An earlier piece of legislation, House Bill 14-1182, proposes a method for handling the problem without stopping the “accountability clock” for low-performing districts and schools that will face state intervention if they remain in the lowest rating categories for five years. (See this story for background on that bill.)

Johnston said discussions about the accountability bill alerted him to the possible need to tweak the evaluation system.

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