Taking on SB 191

New bill would eliminate use of student growth data in teacher evaluations

High school language arts teacher Kimba Rael, left, talks homework with student Shantelle Bell, Centennial High School in San Luis (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post).

An unlikely pair of senators has teamed up to mount an assault on Colorado’s landmark educator evaluation law, which still hasn’t been fully put into practice after six years.

School districts could drop use of student academic growth data in teacher evaluations under a bill introduced Friday by Sens. Mike Merrifield and Vicki Marble.

The proposal, Senate Bill 16-105, also would give districts discretion to eliminate annual ratings for teachers who are rating effective or highly effective.

The prime sponsors are something of a political odd couple, liberal Democrat Merrifield of Colorado Springs and conservative Republican Marble of Fort Collins.

But the two have made common cause in opposition to state standardized testing and to using testing data to evaluate educators. Merrifield, a retired music teacher, is a longtime opponent of the landmark evaluation system created by a 2010 law. Marble is the legislature’s most vocal critic of the state testing system.

Their bill going after the educator effectiveness law had been expected, and they’ve also teamed up on Senate Bill 16-005, a measure to eliminate 9th grade testing.

State law requires that principals and teachers be evaluated annually and that at least 50 percent of those evaluations be based on student academic growth as determined by state test scores and other district and classroom measures.

Because the state switched to the new PARCC tests in 2015, no state growth data is being used to evaluate teachers this school year. Districts instead must use locally chosen tests and other measures.

The new bill would eliminate the academic growth requirement but let districts use student growth for up to 20 percent of evaluations if they choose. Districts that have their own evaluation systems could exempt principals and teachers from annual reviews if they’ve previously been rated effective or highly effective. They would have to be evaluated at least every three years.

Such a major change in the evaluation system is considered a long shot this session and likely would face a gubernatorial veto if it passed both houses.

Merrifield, as a solo sponsor, introduced a similar bill in 2015. It never got out of the Senate Education Committee.

Merrifield and Marble sit on that nine-member committee. Two other panel members, Democratic Sens. Andy Kerr of Lakewood and Nancy Todd of Aurora, are cosponsors of SB 16-105. There’s no House sponsor yet.

Two other education bills were introduced Friday.

Senate Bill 16-101 would create a five-member ethics commission within the Department of Education to hear ethics complaints against members of school district and charter boards. Kerr is the prime Senate sponsor.

Senate Bill 16-104 proposes several programs to encourage teachers to work in rural school districts, including creation of rural education centers, stipends for student teachers, cadet programs in rural districts to encourage high school students to become teachers and financial support of rural teachers who seek board certification or credentials for teaching concurrent college courses. The introduced version doesn’t include a price tag. Todd is the prime Senate sponsor, teamed with Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, in the House.

getting to know you

These 10 Colorado lawmakers are rethinking how the state pays for its public schools

PHOTO: Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
State Sen. Rachel Zezninger, an Arvada Democrat, on the first day of the legislative session.

Ten Colorado lawmakers, many with longstanding ties to the education community, are set to begin debating the future of Colorado’s school finance system.

The legislative group tasked with studying and making recommendations about how the state pays for public education includes former teachers and superintendents, a former State Board of Education member and a practicing charter school lawyer.

State Rep. Alec Garnett, a Denver Democrat, will lead the committee during its first year.

Garnett helped establish the committee earlier this year when he co-sponsored House Bill 1340 with state Rep. Paul Lundeen, a Monument Republican. Lundeen also will serve on the panel.

State Sen. Owen Hill, a Colorado Springs Republican, will be the vice-chair.

The committee was formed against a backdrop of fear that the state’s schools would face deep budget cuts next school year. However, lawmakers at the last minute averted putting the state’s schools in an even deeper financial hole.

Still, lawmakers from both parties and members of the state’s education community agree the funding system is outdated and in need of a massive overhaul. The state last made significant changes to the system in 1994.

The committee’s first meeting is scheduled for July 24. Among its first decisions will be selecting a third-party consultant to help with research and guide discussions and decisions.

Here’s the full committee:

  • State Rep. Alec Garnett, Denver Democrat, chair
  • State Sen. Owen Hill, Colorado Springs Republican, vice chair
  • State Sen. Janet Buckner, Aurora Democrat
  • State Sen. Bob Gardner, Colorado Springs Republican
  • State Rep. Millie Hamner, Frisco Democrat
  • State Rep. Timothy Leonard, Evergreen Republican
  • State Rep. Paul Lundeen, Monument Republican
  • State Sen. Michael Merrifield, Colorado Springs Democrat
  • State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, Sterling Republican
  • State Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, Arvada Democrat

Training time

Common Core is out. Tennessee Academic Standards are in. Here’s how teachers are prepping for the change.

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Karyn Bailey (left), a facilitator from Williamson County Schools, coaches elementary school teachers during an exercise on Tennessee's revised standards for English language arts as part of a two-day training at La Vergne High School, one of 11 training sites across the state.

Teachers poring over Tennessee’s revised academic standards are mostly breathing a sigh of relief as the state prepares for its third change in eight years of what students are expected to learn in each grade.

The Tennessee Academic Standards for math and English language arts, which will reach K-12 classrooms this fall, aren’t dramatically different from Common Core standards used in Tennessee since 2012. But numerous tweaks are sprinkled across the standards — mostly word adjustments for clarity and changes in presentation to make the standards more user-friendly. Some standards also have been moved to different grades and courses for the sake of progression and manageability.

About 6,000 teachers got a two-day crash course on the changes during trainings last week at 11 sites across the state. The Tennessee Department of Education organized the sessions, attended by educators from more than 90 percent of Tennessee’s 146 districts.

“This is the third time I’ve gone through this, and it’s the best one from my perspective,” said John Lasater, a Sumner County math teacher who attended sessions at La Vergne High School near Nashville.

Lasater, who teaches at Westmoreland High School, was thrilled that some standards have been moved out of standards-heavy algebra classes into higher-level math courses. “It was just too much, especially Algebra II,” he said. “Our teachers just never seemed to be able to cover everything.”

Diving into her manual for English language arts, Rutherford County teacher Leila Hinkle liked seeing a greater emphasis on early writing skills, as well as the embedding of language standards in foundational literacy standards.

“I think the new standards are clearer; they’re clarifying,” said Hinkle, who will teach fourth grade this fall. “You can see better where students were supposed to be and where they’re going.”

Standards are foundational because they set learning goals that dictate other education decisions around curriculum and testing. In Tennessee, they are usually reviewed every six years.

The trainings are part of the last major step in a transition that began in 2014 when Gov. Bill Haslam ordered a review after Common Core became embroiled in political controversy over charges of federal overreach, in part because of incentives the Obama administration offered to states that adopted them. Eighteen months of review and revisions followed, with the State Board of Education approving the newly minted Tennessee Academic Standards last year.

The changes aren’t as drastic as in 2011 when Tennessee switched to Common Core. That’s because the committee of educators charged with the overhaul used the Common Core as a foundation rather than starting from scratch. Both sets of standards emphasize critical thinking and analysis and de-emphasize memorization of facts.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said many of the changes, while seemingly subtle, are no less substantive.

“A word change can be significant in terms of standards. If you change the word know to explain as far as what students must be able to do, that’s significant. That’s two different levels of understanding,” she said.

The trainings and training resources are costing the state about $3 million over the course of a year, far less than the $23.5 million in federal Race to the Top funds spent on Common Core trainings across three years.

To keep costs down, the state is changing its approach away from dependence on department-led trainings.

Erin McGill, a facilitator for trainings organized by the Tennessee Department of Education, dives into the revised standards with high school math teachers. (Photo by Marta W. Aldrich)

“We’re encouraging districts to identify teams to train with us and then to re-deliver the trainings in their own districts,” said Robbie Mitchell, the department’s executive director of academic strategy and operations. “It’s more about empowering and equipping districts to make their own decisions about what’s best for their district.”

The state plans to use the same training model for the rollout of new science standards in 2018 and social studies standards the following year.

Lasater said he found this year’s trainings productive and worthwhile.

“Before, the trainings were ‘here’s a standard, now let’s work a problem.’ This time, we were challenged to take a standard and develop a question that would fully assess a student’s mastery of it. We weren’t just working a problem; we were creating a problem. That’s a huge shift.”

You can find Tennessee’s new standards for math and English language arts on the Education Department’s website.