Building Better Teachers

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.”

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.”