Future of Teaching

Districts make their choices on evaluation methods

A wide majority of Colorado’s school districts have chosen to use the state’s model principal and teacher evaluation system as the state heads into the first year of evaluations that meet requirements mandated by a 2010 law.

IllustrationHowever, some districts with the largest teacher work forces, such as Denver, Douglas County and Jefferson County, will be using local evaluation systems.

Districts had an Aug. 1 deadline to file “assurances” with the Colorado Department of Education specifying which evaluation systems they would use. (The online assurance form merely asked a district to specify that it was using the model system or, if not, that their local system “meets, or … is in progress towards meeting, the requirements” set by the state.)

Of the state’s 178 districts, 160 will use the model system for principals and assistant principals and for teachers. State officials long had expected that many districts, unable or disinclined to spend the time and money to develop their own systems, would use the state model.

Who’s doing whatTop 10 districts by enrollment
  • Adams 12 – Model for both
  • Aurora – Model for principals, slightly modified model for teachers
  • Boulder – Local system for both
  • Cherry Creek – Model for both
  • Co Springs District 11 – Model for both
  • DPS – Local system for both
  • Dougco – Local system for both
  • Jeffco – Model for principals, local for teachers
  • Poudre – Model for both
  • St. Vrain – Model for both

Others using both local systems

  • Academy
  • Granada
  • Harrison
  • Kim

Eagle and Mapleton are among other districts using local systems only for teachers

Source: Colorado Department of Education

Another 10 districts will use a “hybrid” – usually the model system for principals and their own systems for teachers.

Seven districts, some of which already had their systems in place, will use their own methods for both principals and teachers. The landmark evaluation law, Senate Bill 10-191, allows districts to use their own systems as long as they meet certain standards set by CDE. (See this checklist for details on the requirements that local systems have to meet.)

Overall, at least 18,000 of the state’s approximately 50,000 teachers will be cover by local evaluation systems.

(One small district, Kit Carson on the eastern plains, is not subject to SB 10-191 requirements because of an innovation-district waiver granted in 2011. Teachers who work for boards of cooperative educational services are covered by the new system. Most BOCES have indicated they’ll use the state model system.)

While there will be variations, Katy Anthes, CDE executive director of educator effectiveness, noted that all districts have to meet certain high-level requirements:

  • All principals and teachers will have to be evaluated annually starting this year.
  • Half of an evaluation has to be based on student academic growth and the other half on professional practice, with those two combined to yield a rating of highly effective, effective, partially effective or ineffective.

Under SB 10-191, ratings have consequences. New teachers will have to gain three highly effective or effective ratings in a row to qualify for non-probationary status. Experienced teachers who receive two annual partially effective or ineffective ratings in a row will return to probationary status.

The 2013-14 school year is a “practice” year in the sense that while effective ratings will count towards non-probationary status, the clock won’t start on ineffective ratings until the 2014-15 school year.

New evaluations will be familiar to some

Elements of the new system have been pilot tested in selected districts over the last two school years. And some districts, like Denver, Douglas County, Eagle and Harrison, have had sophisticated systems in place for some time. Between them, Denver and Dougco have about 8,500 of the state’s approximately 50,000 teachers.

But Anthes noted that in many cases only groups of principals and teachers have been exposed to new systems. In Denver, for instance, the district’s LEAP program started as a pilot in a handful of schools. (See this EdNews story for a look at the DPS system now.)

The state model system

Under the state system, evaluation is envisioned as a yearlong process, not just a quick classroom observation and a principal-teacher interview. Rather, evaluation is supposed to include an annual orientation, educator self-assessment, review of goals and performance plan, mid-year review, assessment by and evaluator, end-of-year review, final rating and planning for the next school year.

The model system includes five quality standards for teachers, including content knowledge, classroom environment, facilitation of learning, reflection on practice and leadership.

There are six quality standards for principals: Strategic leadership, instructional leadership, school cultural and equity leadership, human resource leadership, managerial leadership and external development leadership.

Each standard includes several specific elements on which educators will be evaluated. Districts have flexibility in weighting of the different standards and elements.

The rubrics – scoring sheets – used in the evaluation have five rating levels – basic, partially proficient, proficient, accomplished and exemplary.

Professional practice has been the part of evaluation that’s been most extensively tested before this year. Anthes said that measuring student growth and applying it to teacher performance is the area that will require more work and fine-tuning in 2013-14.

The state calculates student growth based on TCAP scores. (Learn more about the Colorado Growth Model here.) But evaluations won’t be based just on those standardized tests, which aren’t given in all grades and which cover only reading, writing, math and science right now.

Districts have flexibility in choosing what others kinds of tests and student performance can be used to measure academic growth, although CDE has developed a long list of suggested measures. (Get more information here.)

How the state will monitor districts

The assurances filed by districts don’t provide details of local evaluation systems, and the state doesn’t have to pre-approve local plans.

“We may do some looking and checking” of local systems, Anthes said. But CDE’s emphasis will be on reviewing the results of those systems. “We will be checking data as it comes in to see if the systems are operating as we would expect.”


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

Town Hall

Hopson promises more flexibility as Memphis school leaders clear the air with teachers on new curriculum

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson answers questions from Memphis teachers at a town hall hosted by United Education Association of Shelby County on Monday.

The Shelby County Schools superintendent told passionate teachers at a union town hall Monday that they can expect more flexibility in how they teach the district’s newest curriculums.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said the teachers who score highest on their evaluations should not feel like they need to read from a script to meet district requirements, although he didn’t have an immediate answer to how that would work.

Teacher frustrations were reaching a boiling point on district curriculums introduced this school year. Although the state requirements have changed several times over the last eight years, this change was particularly bothersome to teachers because they feel they are teaching to a “script.”

“Teachers have to be given the autonomy,” Hopson said. Although he cited the need for the district to have some control as teachers are learning, “at the end of the day, if you’re a level 4 or level 5 teacher, and you know your students, there needs to be some flexibility.”

Vocal teachers at the meeting cited check-ins from central office staff as evidence of the overreach.

“I keep hearing people say it’s supplemental but we have people coming into my room making sure we’re following it to a T,” said Amy Dixon a teacher at Snowden School. “We’re expected to follow it … like a script.”

The 90-minute meeting sponsored by the United Education Association of Shelby County drew a crowd of about 100 people to talk about curriculum and what Hopson called “a culture of fear” throughout the district of making a mistake.

Hopson said his team is still working on how to strike the right balance between creativity and continuity across nearly 150 district-run schools because so many students move during the school year.

He reassured despondent teachers he would come up with a plan to meet the needs of teachers and keep curriculums consistent. He said some continuity is needed across schools because many students move a lot during the school year.

“We know we got to make sure that I’m coming from Binghampton and going over to Whitehaven it’s got to be at least somewhat aligned,” he said. “I wish we were a stable, middle-class, not the poorest city in the country, then we wouldn’t have a lot of these issues.”

Ever since Tennessee’s largest district began phasing in parts of an English curriculum called Expeditionary Learning, teachers have complained of being micromanaged, instead of being able to tailor content for their students. The same goes for the new math curriculum Eureka Math.

The district’s changes are meant to line it up with the state. Tennessee’s new language arts and math standards replaced the Common Core curriculum, but in fact, did not deviate much when the final version was released last fall. This is the third change in eight years to state education requirements.

Still, Shelby County Schools cannot fully switch to the new curriculums until they are approved by the Tennessee State Board of Education. District leaders hope both curriculums, which received high marks from a national group that measures curriculum alignment to Common Core, will be added when textbooks are vetted for the 2019-20 school year.

Some urged educators to not think of the new curriculums as “scripts,” and admitted to poorly communicating the changes to teachers.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Pam Harris-Giles

“It’s not an expectation that we stand in front of our children and read off a piece of paper,” said Pam Harris-Giles, one of the district’s instructional support directors, who helps coordinate curriculum training and professional development.

Fredricka Vaughn, a teacher at Kirby High School, said that won’t be easy without clear communication of what flexibility will look like for high-performing teachers.

“If you don’t want us to use the word script, then bring back the autonomy,” she said.

Hopson stressed that the state’s largest school district could be a model for public education if everyone can work together to make the new curriculums work.

“It’s going to take work, hard work, everyone aligned from the top, everyone rowing in the same direction.”