Douglas County high school teacher and union member Traci Mumm says district leaders are rushing development of Dougco’s own teacher evaluation criteria instead of following the state’s lead.

In an apparent rush to once again be “innovative,” Douglas County School District has found a way to further distance teachers.

Dougco Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Dougco Superintendent Liz Fagen addresses the school board in this <em>EdNews</em> file photo.

Superintendent Liz Fagen would like for the nation to look at our school district and marvel at the great “cutting edge” things happening here. Yet, in our hurry to amaze and impress, we have once again alienated and ignored the people who make their way into the classroom every day and do the actual work of education.

Senate Bill 10-191 requires districts to have a new teacher evaluation in place by the 2013-14 school year. Although teacher evaluations have always existed, the law requires that these new evaluations measure teachers according to principal’s judgment and student performance. The Colorado Department of Education is working on a version that will be made available to any Colorado district, and will work with these districts to understand and pilot these new tools. Of course, districts are welcome to create their own evaluations as long as they meet or exceed the state’s version.

The transition to this new system is the cause of growing anxiety in schools across the state as teachers and administrators work to find a balanced and reasonable approach to handling this change. In Douglas County, though, the top-down approach and frantic implementation of an incomplete evaluation is causing waves of trepidation in our schools.

Twenty-seven school districts have chosen to pilot the state’s evaluation this year in preparation for next year’s required implementation. Littleton Public Schools is piloting the state evaluation as is and says on its website that after much research, teachers and administrators found the Colorado model to be “a fairly good match with LPS priorities, which are to improve teaching and learning in all of our schools.”  Cherry Creek Schools is also working with the state to pilot a version of its evaluation.

Dougco creates its own teacher eval

Douglas County, however, has spent considerable time, effort, and money writing its own model and has decided to implement it this year in a high stakes, high anxiety rollout. Teachers came to school in the fall understanding that, unlike other districts, DCSD has decided to run the new evaluation, even though it is incomplete and seemingly incomprehensible.  Further, teachers’ pay will be tied to the documents that make up CITE 2.0 (CITE stands for Continuous Improvement of Teacher Effectiveness).  As other districts ease their employees into a completely new system, Douglas County has hurriedly marched us into the undiscovered country.

In a recent public forum, Christian Cutter, assistant superintendent of elementary education, touted the fact that the district spent $65,000 to hire an education consulting group, Teaching & Learning Solutions, to train administrators this summer to use new evaluation tools. It is admirable that the district chose to hire a group committed to helping building administrators learn to evaluate teachers in a consistent manner. Having a consistent evaluation process guarantees that a teacher at ThunderRidge High School is scored the same way as a teacher at Sierra Middle School. According to Cutter, the group [TLS] “facilitated a five day training for evaluators” to get them up to speed in preparation for the upcoming year’s CITE 2.0 rollout. He continued that the training was “imperative so that evaluators can use whatever tool with fidelity.” His description of what happened in those five days would lead a casual listener to believe that the district is concerned that evaluators know the process so that they can accurately measure teacher performance on CITE 2.0.

However, in its final report dated October 2012, TLS recommends that the district proceed slowly because “consistency between observers [administrators] is of great importance” and “only 31 of 145 observers scored within a statistically acceptable range.”  Additionally, the report warned that “data from multiple calibration assessments is needed before TLS can recommend that the scores from the observers are reliable enough to be used in a formal, high-stakes manner.”  In other words, administrators did not pass the calibration test. And, before the district proceeds with high-stakes evaluation (like tying evaluation to compensation), principals and teachers need more training.

Because we’ve all been in school, we believe that we know who the great teachers are and who the bad teachers are. If it were that easy, we would not be in this mess. It’s not that easy. An accurate and appropriate teacher evaluation is complicated and takes time to design and implement. There are too many people affected by the process to hurry and not get it right.

Yet, here we are. Teachers’ pay is tied to an evaluation that is unfinished and premature. Administrators cannot effectively evaluate teachers because their training is sporadic and incomplete. Other districts are still in pilot-mode, but, because DCSD is “innovative,” we are marching forward regardless of buy-in, collaboration and complete understanding from teachers and principals.