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.”

student teaching

Building a teacher pipeline: How one Aurora school has become a training ground for aspiring teachers

Paraprofessional Sonia Guzman, a student of a teaching program, works with students at Elkhart Elementary School in Aurora. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Students at Aurora’s Elkhart Elementary School are getting assistance from three aspiring teachers helping out in classrooms this year, part of a new partnership aimed at building a bigger and more diverse teacher pipeline.

The teachers-to-be, students at the University of Northern Colorado’s Center for Urban Education, get training and a paid job while they’re in college. Elkhart principal Ron Schumacher gets paraprofessionals with long-term goals and a possibility that they’ll be better prepared to be Aurora teachers.

For Schumacher, it’s part of a plan to not only help his school, but also others in Aurora Public Schools increase teacher retention.

“Because of the nature of our school demographics, it’s a coin flip with a new teacher,” Schumacher said. “If I lose 50 percent of my teachers over time, I’m being highly inefficient. If these ladies know what they’re getting into and I can have them prepared to be a more effective first-year teacher, there’s more likelihood that I’ll keep them in my school in the long term.”

Elkhart has about 590 students enrolled this year. According to state data from last year, more than 95 percent of the students who attend the school qualify for subsidized lunches, a measure of poverty. The school, which operates with an International Baccalaureate program, has outperformed the district average on some state tests.

The three paraprofessionals hired by the school this year are part of the teaching program at UNC’s Lowry campus, which has long required students to work in a school for the four years they work on their degree.

Students get paid for their work in schools, allowing them to earn some money while going to college. Students from the program had worked in Aurora schools in the past, but not usually three students at once at the same school, and not as part of a formal partnership.

The teaching program has a high number of students of color and first-generation college students, which Rosanne Fulton, the program director, said is another draw for partnering with schools in the metro area.

Schumacher said every principal and education leader has the responsibility to help expose students to more teachers who can relate to them.

One of this year’s paraprofessionals is Andy Washington, an 18-year-old who attended Elkhart for a few years when she was a child.

“Getting to know the kids on a personal level, I thought I was going to be scared, but they’re cool,” Washington said.

Another paraprofessional, 20-year-old Sonia Guzman, said kids are opening up to them.

“They ask you what college is like,” Guzman said.

Schumacher said there are challenges to hiring the students, including figuring out how to make use of the students during the morning or early afternoon while being able to release them before school is done for the day so they can make it to their college classes.

Schumacher said he and his district director are working to figure out the best ways to work around those problems so they can share lessons learned with other Aurora principals.

“We’re using some people differently and tapping into volunteers a little differently, but if it’s a priority for you, there are ways of accommodating their schedules,” he said.

At Elkhart, full-time interventionists work with students in kindergarten through third grade who need extra help learning to read.

But the school doesn’t have the budget to hire the same professionals to work with older students. The three student paraprofessionals are helping bridge that gap, learning from the interventionists so they can work with fourth and fifth grade students.

Recently, the three started getting groups of students that they pull out during class to give them extra work on reading skills.

One exercise they worked on with fourth grade students recently was helping them identify if words had an “oi” or “oy” spelling based on their sounds. Students sounded out their syllables and used flashcards to group similar words.

Districts across the country have looked at similar approaches to help attract and prepare teachers for their own schools. In Denver, bond money voters approved last year is helping pay to expand a program this year where paraprofessionals can apply for a one-year program to become teachers while they continue working.

In the partnership at Elkhart, students paraprofessionals take longer than that, but in their first and second year are already learning how to write lessons during their afternoon classes and then working with teachers at the school to deliver the lessons and then reflect on how well they worked. Students say the model helps them feel supported.

“It’s really helping me to become more confident,” said Stephanie Richards, 26, the third paraprofessional. “I know I’m a lot more prepared.”

Schumacher said the model could also work in the future with students from other teaching schools or programs. It’s a small but important part, he said, toward helping larger efforts to attract and retain teachers, and also diversify the ranks.

“You’re doing something for the next generation of folks coming in,” he said.

newark notes

In Newark, a study about school changes rings true — and raises questions — for people who lived them

PHOTO: Naomi Nix
Park Elementary principal Sylvia Esteves.

A few years ago, Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Esteves found herself fielding questions from angst-ridden parents and teachers.

Park was expecting an influx of new students because Newark’s new enrollment system allowed parents to choose a K-8 school for their child outside of their neighborhood. That enrollment overhaul was one of many reforms education leaders have made to Newark Public Schools since 2011 in an effort to expand school choice and raise student achievement.

“What’s it going to mean for overcrowding? Will our classes get so large that we won’t have the kind of success for our students that we want to have?” Esteves recalls educators and families asking.

Park’s enrollment did grow, by about 200 students, and class sizes swelled along with it, Esteves said. But for the last two years, the share of students passing state math and English tests has risen, too.

Esteves was one of several Newark principals, teachers, and parents who told Chalkbeat they are not surprised about the results of a recent study that found test scores dropped sharply in the years immediately following the changes but then bounced back. By 2016, it found Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and conducted by Harvard researchers, the study also found the reforms had no impact on student math scores.

And while many Newark families and school leaders agree with the study’s conclusion — that students are making more progress now — they had very different ideas about what may have caused the initial declines, and why English growth was more obvious than math.

Supported by $200 million in private philanthropy, former superintendent Cami Anderson and other New Jersey officials in 2011 sought to make significant changes to the education landscape in Newark, where one third of more than 50,000 students attend privately managed charter schools. Their headline-grabbing reforms included a new teachers union contract with merit-based bonuses; the universal enrollment system; closing some schools; expanding charter schools; hiring new principals; requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs; and lengthening the day at some struggling schools.

Brad Haggerty, the district’s chief academic officer, said the initial drop in student performance coincided with the district’s introduction of a host of changes: new training materials, evaluations, and curricula aligned to the Common Core standards but not yet assessed by the state’s annual test. That was initially a lot for educators to handle at once, he said, but teacher have adjusted to the changes and new standards.

“Over time our teaching cadre, our faculty across the entire district got stronger,” said Haggerty, who arrived as a special assistant to the superintendent in 2011.

But some in Newark think the district’s changes have had longer-lasting negative consequences.

“We’ve had a lot of casualties. We lost great administrators, teachers,” said Bashir Akinyele, a Weequahic High School history teacher. “There have been some improvements but there were so many costs.”

Those costs included the loss of veteran teachers who were driven out by officials’ attempts to change teacher evaluations and make changes to schools’ personnel at the same time, according to Sheila Montague, a former school board candidate who spent two decades teaching in Newark Public Schools before losing her position during the changes.

“You started to see experienced, veteran teachers disappearing,” said Montague, who left the school system after being placed in the district’s pool of educators without a job in a school. “In many instances, there were substitute teachers in the room. Of course, the delivery of instruction wasn’t going to even be comparable.”

The district said it retains about 95 percent of its highly-rated teachers.

As for why the study found that Newark’s schools were seeing more success improving English skills than math, it’s a pattern that Esteves, the Park Elementary principal, says she saw firsthand.

While the share of students who passed the state English exam at Park rose 13 percentage points between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the share of students who were proficient in math only rose 3 percentage points in that time frame.

“[Math is] where we felt we were creeping up every year, but not having a really strong year,” she said. “I felt like there was something missing in what we were doing that could really propel the children forward.”

To improve Park students’ math skills, Esteves asked teachers to assign “math exemplars,” twice-a-month assignments that probed students’ understanding of concepts. Last year, Park’s passing rate on the state math test jumped 12 percentage points, to 48 percent.

While Newark students have made progress, families and school leaders said they want to the district to make even more gains.

Test scores in Newark “have improved, but they are still not where they are supposed to be,” said Demetrisha Barnes, whose niece attends KIPP Seek Academy. “Are they on grade level? No.”

Chalkbeat is expanding to Newark, and we’re looking for a reporter to lead our efforts there. Think it should be you? Apply here.