From the Statehouse

Inside Senate Bill 10-191

The educator effectiveness bill caused excitement, fear and much confusion as it moved through the legislature in a little more than a month. About 200 amendments were drafted for the bill, although many of those were not added or even proposed.

The bill sets some core requirements and uses for educator evaluations, but it leaves definitions of educator effectiveness and the details of the new system to the appointed State Council for Educator Effectiveness and to the elected State Board of Education.

The legislature will have review power over the board’s proposed rules and over a future appeals process for teachers who lose non-probationary status.

And the law won’t be fully implemented until the 2014-15 school year.

Core requirements

  • Evaluations are to “provide a basis for making decisions in the areas of hiring, compensation, promotion, assignment, professional development, earning and retaining non-probationary status, dismissal, and nonrenewal of contract.”
  • Educator effectiveness is to be determined by use of “fair, transparent, timely, rigorous and valid methods.”
  • Evaluations will be done at least once a year.
  • Performance standards shall include at least three levels, highly effective, effective and ineffective.
  • At least 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation must be based on the academic growth of students.
  • At least 50 percent of a principal’s evaluation is to be determined by the academic growth of students in a school and the effectiveness of the school’s teachers.
  • Expectations of student growth can take into consideration such factors as student mobility and numbers of special education and high-risk students.
  • Educators will be given “meaningful” opportunities to improve effectiveness and provided means to share effective practices with other educators.
  • Probationary teachers must have three consecutive years of demonstrated effectiveness to gain non-probationary status.
  • Non-probationary teachers who receive two consecutive years of unsatisfactory evaluations return to probation.
  • A teacher may be placed in a school only with the consent of the principal and the advice of at least two teachers who work at that school.
  • Effective non-probationary teachers who aren’t placed in a school will go into a priority hiring pool.
  • Non-probationary teachers who lose their jobs because of staff reductions will be given lists of all available jobs in their districts.
  • A non-probationary teacher who doesn’t find another job within 12 months or two hiring cycles will be placed on unpaid leave.
  • School districts and their unions can apply for waiver of these mutual consent provisions.
  • Teacher effectiveness, then seniority, will be considered when layoffs are made.

Additional details

  • Non-probationary teachers who receive ineffective evaluations may appeal those either through existing collective bargain agreements or to the superintendent or a designee. If there’s no contract, a teacher may request review by a mutually chosen third party, whose decision on whether the evaluation was arbitrary or capricious will be binding.
  • Teachers must receive written evaluations two weeks before the end of the school year.
    Principals and administrators have to maintain written records of evaluations.
  • Teachers evaluated as unsatisfactory must receive written notice and will receive remediation plans and professional development opportunities.
  • The state board will review local evaluation systems and will consider local conditions such as size, demographics and location of districts.
  • The current system of achieving non-probationary status will remain in force through the 2012-13 school year.
  • Effective non-probationary teachers who move to a new district can carry that status with them.

Timelines

  • March 1, 2011 – Council makes recommendations on the definitions of teacher and principal effectiveness, different levels of effectiveness, permitted differentiation of evaluations, testing and implementation of new evaluation systems, parent involvement and on costs of the new system.
  • Sept. 1, 2011 – State board adopts rules to implement the new system.
  • Nov. 11, 2011 – Deadline for the Colorado Department of Education to make available to districts a resource bank of assessments, processes, tools and policies that can be used to develop evaluation systems.
  • Feb. 15, 2012 – Deadline for legislators to review the state board’s rules. The legislature may veto individual rules.
  • May 1, 2012 – Deadline for the state board to submit revised versions of any vetoed rules.
  • 2011-12 school year – Department works with school districts to develop evaluation systems.
  • 2012-13 – New evaluation system will be tested.
  • January 2013 – Council makes recommendations on permanent evaluation appeals processes directly to the legislature.
  • 2013-14 – New system rolled out statewide.
  • Aug. 1, 2014 – Districts shall adopt incentive systems that encourage effective teachers in high-performing schools to move to low-performing ones.
  • 2014-15 – Final implementation to be done in this school year.

The players

  • State Council for Educator Effectiveness – It has 15 appointed members and is part of the governor’s office. Membership includes two executive branch officials, four teachers, one superintendent and two administrators, one charter school representative, one parent, one student or recent graduate and one education policy expert. (The council already has started work under terms of the executive order that created it originally.)
  • The council is allowed to create task forces, which can include non-members, and is to make its recommendations by consensus vote.
  • State Board of Education – Board members are elected from the state’s seven congressional districts. It currently has four Republicans and three Democrats, although there has been little or no partisan divide in the last couple of years. Three seats, two held by Republicans and one by a Democrat, are up the election his year.
  • Governor’s Office – Gov. Bill Ritter, who started the ball rolling with an executive order creating the original effectiveness council, isn’t running for re-election. Democrat John Hickenlooper and Republican Scott McInnis are considered the leading candidates to replace him.
  • Legislature – Democrats current hold majorities in both houses. All 65 House seats and 19 of 35 Senate seats are on the ballot this year.

Costs

  • $237,869 in 2010-11 and $242,587 in 2011-12 to pay for three CDE staff members. If federal funds aren’t obtained, an existing CDE contingency fund will be tapped. If that doesn’t have enough money, the State Education Fund may be used.
  • A May 11 legislative staff analysis concluded: “There is no immediate fiscal impact to districts; however, the bill will certainly require that districts begin to modify their evaluation process, and devote additional time and resources to teacher and implementation in FY 2014-15.”
  • The law also creates a Great Teachers and Leaders Fund, which can accept federal grants and outside donations, to help pay for implementation. The department is allowed to stop work on implementation if funding is insufficient.

Text of the bill – Capitalized text denotes new law. Note the explanation about what shading and underlining mean in order to track where amendments were made.

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.”