From the Statehouse

Teacher effectiveness council starts 18-month run

Colorado’s experiment in crafting a new educator evaluation system kicked off Thursday with the first meeting of the 15-member Governor’s Council for Educator Effectiveness.

The council, created by Gov. Bill Ritter as part of the state’s Race to the Top application, is based on the premise that more effective and durable reforms can be achieved through a process representing a broad array of education interests, from the Colorado Education Association to administrators and from school board members to one lone student.

That approach stands in contrast to the more top-down way some other states have approached both the quest for federal education stimulus funds and the broader national push to improve teaching.

Thursday’s session, held at the Lowry headquarters of the state Community College System, was the usual first-meeting mix of introductions, setting expectations and deciding on a future meeting schedule.

The introductions gave some hints of how individual members are approaching the 18-month assignment.

Lt. Gov. Barbara O'Brien
PHOTO: via E. Genco, Achievement School District
Lt. Gov. Barbara O'Brien opened the first meeting of the Educator Effectiveness Council March 11, 2010.

“It’s always the adults who find it hardest to change.” – Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, who welcomed the group but isn’t a member

“We shouldn’t be constrained by the past. … We’re not looking for a little tweak.” – chair Matt Smith

“My expectation is that we will be brave but cautious.” – CU education dean Lorrie Shepard

“My hope is to make a great system that is fair and equitable.” – Brighton teacher and union official Shelley Genereax

“Every time I think about this work I feel a weight upon my shoulders.” – vice chair Nina Lopez

The governor’s charge to the council is to develop a proposal under which teachers are:

  • “Evaluated using multiple fair, transparent, timely, rigorous, and valid methods, at least 50 percent of which is determined by the academic growth of their students.
  • “Afforded a meaningful opportunity to improve their effectiveness.
  • “Provided the means to share effective practices with other educators statewide.”

The council has a Dec. 31 deadline to draft definitions of teacher and principal effectiveness and to “develop and recommend guidelines for adequate implementation of a high-quality educator evaluation system,” in the words of the executive order.

The order also sets a Sept. 30, 2011, deadline to make recommendations to the governor, legislature and State Board of Education on policy changes to:

  • “Support districts’ use of evaluation data for decisions in areas such as compensation, promotion, retention, and removal, as well as the criteria for earning and retaining non-probationary status.
  • “Ensure that the standards and criteria applicable to teacher and principal licensure and the accreditation of preparation programs are directly aligned with and support the preparation and licensure of effective educators.”

State education leaders have repeatedly acknowledged that despite a series of recent education reforms, Colorado is weakest in the area of educator effectiveness. The 2008 and 2009 legislative sessions passed important education reforms in the areas of standards, testing, P-20 alignment and school and district accountability. Last year lawmakers also approved creation of an educator identifier system that ultimately can be used to link teachers and principals with student achievement data.

There’s been debate in education circles about why Ritter chose to use an executive order rather than pursuing legislation this year. When he announced the council, Ritter pointed to some other states, which have been busy in recent months passing new laws to burnish their R2T applications. “That’s simply not how we go about school reform in this state. … Collaboration is essential to this process,” the governor said.

Colorado is one of 16 finalists for the first round of R2T grants, and the state’s application asks $605,000 to fund the work of the council, primarily for staffing.

Educator Effectiveness Council
Members of the state Educator Effectiveness Council met for the first time on March 11, 2010.

Council member Kerrie Dallman asked, “Who’s going to pick up the slack?” if Colorado doesn’t win. Lopez said, “This work should be done regardless of the funding.” Ritter education advisor Liz Aybar said, “We’re in conversation with some other folks” about support. “Just rest assured that what you guys need will be taken care of.”

The group will meet again in April. The executive order expressly says that the council’s decisions are to be reached by consensus.

Council members

  • Chair and at-large member: Matt Smith, vice-president of engineering, United Launch Alliance
  • Vice chair and Department of Education representative: Nina Lopez, special assistant to the education commissioner
  • Department of Higher Education: Lorrie Shepard, dean, School of Education, University of Colorado – Boulder
  • Teachers: Shelly Genereax of Brighton School District 27J (also president of Brighton Education Association), Kerrie Dallman of Jefferson County Public Schools (also president of Jefferson County Education Association), Amie Baca-Oehlert of Adams District 12 (also an at-large Colorado Education Association director and union chief negotiator in his district), Nikkie Felix of Aurora Public Schools
  • Public school administrators: Margaret Crespo, principal of John Evans Middle School in Weld County, Tracy Dorland, executive director of teacher effectiveness in Denver Public Schools
  • Public school superintendent: Sandra Smyser, superintendent of Eagle County Schools, which has a pay-for-performance system and an evaluation system that includes student achievement
  • School board members: Bill Bregar of Pueblo District 70, Jo Ann Baxter of Moffat County
  • Charter schools: Colin Mullaney, principal of Cheyenne Mountain Charter in Colorado Springs
  • Public school parent: Towanna Henderson of Denver Public Schools
  • Student: Shelby Gonzales-Parker of Justice High School in Denver Public Schools, and a member of the student group Project VOYCE, which participated in drafting the state’s Race to the Top application

The council follows the classic Colorado “one-of-each” model for creating balanced commissions. Various members were selected with the advice of the following interest groups:

  • Teachers – Colorado Education Association
  • Administrators and superintendent – Colorado Association of School Executives
  • School board members – Colorado Association of Schools Boards
  • Charter representatives – Colorado League of Charter Schools
  • Parent – Colorado PTA

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rules and regs

New York adds some flexibility to its free college scholarship rules. Will it be enough for more students to benefit?

PHOTO: Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor Andrew Cuomo delivered his 2017 regional State of the State address at the University at Albany.

New York is offering more wiggle room in a controversial “Excelsior” scholarship requirement that students stay in-state after graduating, according to new regulations released Thursday afternoon.

Members of the military, for example, will be excused from the rule, as will those who can prove an “extreme hardship.”

Overall, however, the plan’s rules remain strict. Students are required to enroll full-time and to finish their degrees on time to be eligible for the scholarship — significantly limiting the number who will ultimately qualify.

“It’s a high bar for a low-income student,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, a leading expert on college affordability and a professor at Temple University. “It’s going to be the main reason why students lose the scholarship.”

The scholarship covers free college tuition at any state college or university for students whose families earn less than $125,000 per year. But it comes with a major catch: Students who receive Excelsior funding must live and work in New York state for the same number of years after graduation as they receive the scholarship. If they fail to do so, their scholarships will be converted to loans, which the new regulations specify have 10-year terms and are interest-free.

The new regulations allow for some flexibility:

  • The loan can now be prorated. So if a student benefits from Excelsior for four years but moves out of state two years after graduation, the student would only owe two years of payments.
  • Those who lose the scholarship but remain in a state school, or complete a residency in-state, will have that time count toward paying off their award.
  • Members of the military get a reprieve: They will be counted as living and working in-state, regardless of where the person is stationed or deployed.
  • In cases of “extreme hardship,” students can apply for a waiver of the residency and work requirements. The regulations cite “disability” and “labor market conditions” as some examples of a hardship. A state spokeswoman said other situations that “may require that a student work to help meet the financial needs of their family” would qualify as a hardship, such as a death or the loss of a job by a parent.
  • Students who leave the state for graduate school or a residency can defer repaying their award. They would have to return to New York afterwards to avoid having the scholarship convert to a loan.

Some of law’s other requirements were also softened. The law requires students to enroll full-time and take average of 30 credits a year — even though many SUNY and CUNY students do not graduate on time. The new regulations would allow students to apply credits earned in high school toward the 30-credit completion requirement, and stipulates that students who are disabled do not have to enroll full-time to qualify.

language proficiency

Educators working on creating more bilingual students worry new state requirements aren’t high enough

A second grade class at Bryant Webster K-8 school in Denver (Joe Amon, The Denver Post).

Colorado educators who led the way in developing high school diploma endorsements recognizing bilingual students worry that new legislation establishing statewide standards for such “seals of biliteracy” sets the bar too low.

Two years ago, Denver Public Schools, Eagle County Schools and the Adams County School District 14 started offering the seal of biliteracy to their students. The three districts worked together to find a common way to assess whether students are fluent in English and another language, and recognize that on high school diplomas. Advocates say the seal is supposed to indicate to colleges and employers that students are truly bilingual.

A bill passed by state legislators this year that will go into effect in August sets a path for districts that want to follow that lead by outlining the minimum that students must do to prove they are fluent in English and in another language.

According to the new law, students must meet a 3.0 grade point average in their English classes and also earn a proficient score on the 11th grade state test, or on Advanced Placement or IB tests. For showing proficiency in the second language, students can either earn proficient scores on nationally recognized tests — or meet a 3.0 grade point average after four years of language classes.

Although educators say the law sends a message of support for bilingual education, that last criteria is one part of what has some concerned.

“It allows for proficiency in a world language to be established solely by completing four years of high school language classes,” said Jorge Garcia, executive director of the Colorado Association for Bilingual Education. “Language classes in one school district may have a different degree of rigor than they do in another.”

The second language criteria should be comparable to the English criteria, several educators said. In the requirements set by Denver, Eagle County and Adams 14, students must at a minimum demonstrate language proficiency through a test score, or in some cases with a portfolio review and interview if a test is not available.

The three districts also catered their requirements based on what each community said was important. In Adams 14 and in Eagle schools, students must perform community service using their language skills. Students also have to do an interview in both languages with a community panel.

“Our school district team developed the community service criteria because we wanted our kids to have authentic practice in their languages,” said Jessica Martinez, director of multilingual education for Eagle County Schools. “We also wanted students to be a bridge to another community than their own. For example, one group of students created academic tutoring services for their peers who don’t yet speak a lot of English. Another student started tutoring her mom and her parents’ friends so they could get their GED.”

The state law doesn’t require students to do community service. But it does allow school districts to go above the state’s requirements when setting up their biliteracy programs.

“Thoughtful school districts can absolutely address these concerns,” Garcia said.

Several school districts in the state are looking to start their own programs. In March, the school board for the Roaring Fork School District in Glenwood Springs voted to start offering the seal. Summit School District also began offering the seal this year.

Leslie Davison, the dual language coordinator for Summit, said that although her program will change in the next year as she forms more clear requirements around some new tests, she will continue to have higher requirements than the state has set.

This year her students had prove proficiency in their second language by taking a test in that language. They also had to demonstrate English proficiency through the ACT. In addition, students did oral presentations to the community in both languages.

“Their expectations aren’t as high as mine are,” Davison said. “We’ll probably stay with our higher-level proficiencies. I do have some work to do in terms of how that’s going to look for next year, but I certainly don’t want to just use seat time.”

Meanwhile, the districts that started the seal are increasing their commitment to biliteracy so as many students as possible can be eligible to earn seals in the future.

The Adams 14 school district in Commerce City is using Literacy Squared, a framework written by local researchers for teaching students to read English by strengthening literacy in the native language. The program is being rolled up year by year and will serve students in 34 classrooms from preschool through fourth grade in the fall.

In Eagle County, Martinez said parents have shown such a strong demand for biliteracy that most elementary schools are now dual language schools providing instruction to all students in English for half of the school day and in Spanish for the other half.

Both districts are also increasing the offerings of language classes in middle and high school. The options are important for students who are native English speakers so they too can become bilingual and access the seal. For students whose primary language is not English, the classes can help ensure they don’t lose their primary language as they learn English.

Of Eagle’s 25 students who graduated with a seal of biliteracy this year, 17 were native Spanish speakers and eight were native English speakers.

“We want all kids to see their bilingualism is an asset,” Martinez said. “It’s huge for them.”